The Gospel of Luke - Part 62: Jesus Cares About His Kingdom — Luke 13:18-35
(These notes are based on lesson notes prepared by Rob Mahon for connection class leaders at Hoffmantown Church.)

Review:

This morning we are wrapping up Luke Chapter 13. Remember this chapter teaches us about What God Cares About.

Last week we saw Jesus heal the crippled woman and chew out the Pharisees for criticizing Him because it was the Sabbath when He did it.

My take home from that was the definition of legalism as obeying the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of it. God’s command to not work on the Sabbath was never intended to prevent us to helping someone in need.

Then we saw the deep compassion that Jesus had for the Jews, even though they rejected Him. We need to have compassion for those today who reject Jesus. We need the strength to not be afraid to tell them about Him.

I think we made the case that the only person to blame for anyone going to Hell is that person; not God, not us, each person makes the decision to reject Jesus. They bare the blame.

So we dealt with His concern with sin and His concern with people.

God Cares About His Kingdom . . . Do You?

Today we learn about His concern about His Kingdom. After Jesus chewed out the Pharisees for being hypocrites, because they faked concern about the Sabbath when they were just jealous for their position of authority, Luke tells us that Jesus continued to talk to the crowd in verse 18.

So He was saying, “What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and THE BIRDS OF THE AIR NESTED IN ITS BRANCHES.” And again He said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” —Luke 13:18-30
Verse 18 starts to explain to us what the kingdom of God is like. In these verses, Jesus answers this question that was on the minds on the people, and especially the Disciples, even though they had not actually asked it, explaining things so that we can understand.

In this passage, Jesus mentions the “Kingdom of God” four times. There are over 100 references to the “kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of heaven” in the Gospels.

The Life application Bible Notes tell us: “The ‘kingdom of heaven’ (used exclusively in Matthew’s gospel) has the same meaning as the “kingdom of God” in Mark and Luke. Matthew uses this phrase because the Jews, out of their intense reverence and respect, did not pronounce God’s name.”

Why does Jesus talk so much about the kingdom of God? One reason may have been because there were so many misconceptions about it. Jews tended to think of God's kingdom in terms of a political kingdom. They focused on membership in the kingdom based on a racial legacy — that the descendants of Abraham were the citizens of the kingdom of God. They no longer had a Biblical understanding of God's kingdom. They wanted an earthly king in power to give them protection and regain their status.

The Life application Bible Notes also tell us: “The disciples, like most Jews of that day, had the wrong idea of the Messiah’s kingdom as predicted by the Old Testament prophets. They thought Jesus would establish an earthly kingdom that would free Israel from Rome’s oppression, and James and John wanted honored places in it. But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world; it is not centered in palaces and thrones, but in the hearts and lives of his followers. The disciples did not understand this until after Jesus’ resurrection.”

There are over 40 references to the Kingdom in the gospel of Luke alone. The handout has them. Take this sheet home and see if you don’t learn something by reading through these verses.

Melker, a first-century priest, described the ideal. “The kingdom of God is to begin with us, in the inner life, and rule there, and from the inner nature all outward actions are to flow in conformity with revealed and written teachings and commands of God . . . Until the outward is like the inward; and thus advancing on from individual to nations.”

Now let’s dive into what we can learn about The Kingdom of God from this passage.

So He was saying, “What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and THE BIRDS OF THE AIR NESTED IN ITS BRANCHES.” And again He said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” —Luke 13:18-21
There’s some debate about the meaning of these parables. Some scholars believe that the meaning is negative, that Jesus is speaking of the rapid influence of evil in the world. This understanding of what Jesus said comes from two common literary interpretations by many Bible scholars. One is that when birds are mentioned, they are normally representing something evil, like the birds that pick up the seed sown on the hard ground. Yeast, or leaven is also often used to represent sin. The fact that sin permeates everything it gets into. The fact that Jesus mentions birds and then leaven, lead some to make this interpretation.

Others disagree and see the intent of the parables as positive, referring to the growth of His kingdom. This perspective seems to me to be more consistent with the context. In this interpretation, which I will take today, the fact that the birds can nest in the tree that grew from the tiniest of seeds makes the fact that the tree is large even more apparent. The fact that the leaven spreads throughout the dough shows us that the Gospel of Jesus spreads throughout the world.

Expansion of the Kingdom:

Jesus shows us a picture of the potential of the Kingdom of God when He says the kingdom of God is like — a mustard seed.  Like a mustard seed, the kingdom of God will grow beyond all outward expectations. Jesus’ ministry was like this. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says that a mustard seed, which is very small, grows into a tree or bush that can be as tall as 15 feet in one season!

There is another time that Jesus made reference to a mustard seed. He spoke in Matthew of the person who had faith, even if it was only the size of a mustard seed.

And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” —Matthew 17:20
The comparison to a mustard seed drives home the fact that what the kingdom of God looked like at the beginning is no indicator of its potential for growth. Jesus' own ministry demonstrates this. Who would have guessed that a “carpenter's son” in a small, conquered Middle Eastern nation would be the central figure of all of human history?

The meaning here is clear: The Kingdom of Heaven, which started out in Jesus’ day as very small, would one day be very large.

Who would have thought that, 2,000 years after Jesus spoke these words, over two billion people from virtually every country in the world would claim to be His followers?

Jesus uses the illustration of the seed several different ways to help us understand the working of His kingdom. He compares His Word to seed; He also compares His followers to seed:

The Kingdom is like Leaven:

Leaven (or yeast) emphasizes the hidden yet pervasive influence of God's kingdom. You just put a little yeast in bread dough and it causes the whole batch of dough to rise.

Leaven illustrates the idea of something very small that has great influence. Leaven also pictures the idea of an influence that is unseen, hidden but pervasive.

This comparison should be a great encouragement to believers because it illustrates how just a few of God’s people can be used by God to have a great influence on their world! We often feel like we’re greatly outnumbered, that there are so few committed to the Lord and His values. But the illustration of leaven shows that the Lord can use even a few to influence the whole world.

Can you think of some examples in the Bible of God using a few to have great influence?

 

God's work often maintains a low profile. Again consider Jesus — Who would have thought in 3 years of ministry He would shape the course of human history?

There's an important principle for us here — God can use a little to accomplish a lot! In fact, the Bible is filled with examples of God taking unlikely people and using them to accomplish extraordinary things. God wants to do great things through you as well. We tend to focus on the things about ourselves or our circumstances that disqualify us from ever being greatly used by God. But our potential lies not in our abilities or our circumstances but in Christ who in lives in us and wants to work through us.

 

Do you believe that Jesus can use you to accomplish great things?  Are you asking Him to use you to accomplish great things?

William Carey — born in England in 1761; chronic allergy problems, difficult marriage (wife mentally unstable); worked as a shoemaker until age 28; studied the Bible on his own.  Carey showed little potential for greatness, but he became increasingly burdened for the lost around the world, especially in India. He and his family eventually went to India as missionaries, without formal training or support. Carey served as a missionary in India for 40 uninterrupted years. He translated the whole Bible into three different Indian languages and portions into many other languages and dialects. He established a college to train Indian Christians as church planters and evangelists. He has been appropriately designated as the 'Father of Modern Missions' [because of his emphasis on relating the Gospel to the culture of those he sought to reach]. More than any other individual in modern history, he stirred the imagination of the Christian world and showed by his own humble example what could and should be done to bring a lost world to Christ.

Let’s go on with what Jesus had to say about the Kingdom of God.

And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, “Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.’ Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem.” —Luke 13:22-33
Let’s see what we can learn here.

Entrance into the Kingdom of God is limited. In verse 23 they asked Jesus:

“Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?”
When we get to heaven, do you think we'll be surprised at how many or how few people really trusted Christ as their Savior?

Jesus' answer to this question is given in more detail in the Matthew’s gospel.

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. —Matthew 7:13-14
Jesus answers the question with this statement: — “Strive to enter through the narrow door”

When Jesus speaks of the “narrow door,” He is referring to Himself. The door is “narrow” in the sense that God has just provided this one way to a personal relationship with Him and to heaven, and there is not a back up plan, no alternative route.

Jesus stated this truth even more clearly in a familiar verse in John:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me”.
Other New Testament passages show that Jesus’ followers clearly understood His teaching about Jesus being the only way to salvation:
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. —Acts 4:12

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. —1 Timothy 2:5
The New Living Translation says:
For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. —1 Timothy 2:5 (NLT)
Lee Strobel says: Other religious leaders can offer pithy and helpful insights, but only Jesus — because He is the unique and perfect Son of God — is qualified to offer Himself as payment for our wrongdoing. No leader of any other major religion even pretends to be able to do that. Moses could mediate on the law; Mohammed could brandish a sword; Buddha could give personal counsel; Confucius could offer wise sayings,” (Lee Strobel)

If I really believe this truth — that Jesus is the only way to God — how should it affect the way I live?

In verse 24 Jesus says: — Many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

Jesus emphasizes that there is a point at which it is too late to be saved. In particular, He is communicating that He Himself is the means of salvation and that when these people rejected Jesus they were rejecting eternal life.

In verse 28 He says:

“In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.” —Luke 13:28
This verse is part of Jesus’ answer to the question back in verse 23 — “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Jesus says that for Israel, the sad answer is “yes”.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary says: “These remarks were revolutionary to Jesus’ hearers. Most of them assumed that because they were physically related to Abraham they would naturally enter into the promised kingdom. However, His next words were even more revolutionary — in fact devastating — to those who assumed that only the Jewish nation would be involved in the kingdom. Jesus explained that Gentiles would be added to the kingdom in place of Jewish people (Luke 13:29-30). People coming from the four corners of the world represent various population groups. Those listening to Jesus’ words should not have been surprised by this teaching because the prophets had often said the same thing. However, Jews in Jesus’ day believed that Gentiles were inferior to them. When Jesus had begun His ministry in Nazareth, His teaching of Gentile inclusion had so maddened the crowd that they tried to kill Him (4:13-30). The Jewish people considered themselves to be first in every way, but they would be last, that is, they would be left out of the kingdom. In contrast, some Gentiles, considered last, would be in the kingdom and would really be first in importance (13:30).”

The Bible does not speak of any further opportunity to gain heaven after the end of this life. There is no intermediate place where we can atone for sins and earn heaven.

One truth Jesus makes very clear here — a lot of people are fooling themselves and don't really have Christ living in their hearts. We may fool ourselves, we may fool others but we don't fool Him. If you have any doubts whatsoever, talk to me or one of the pastors. Don't risk missing heaven for fear of what others may think of you!

__________

Next week: — we will pick up with Luke Chapter 14 where Jesus shows what True Disciples are like and we will ask the question “Are you a Disciple or a Dabbler?”