Full disclosure: I’ve always hated parables. I’m more of a straightforward guy who often misses subtlety or conversational hints. Consequently, I can’t help but sympathize with the disciples when Jesus rebukes them for a lack of understanding. I often picture myself amongst the group replying with an exasperated, “Then just say what you mean!”
Have I mentioned that I also often identify with Peter for his ability to speak before he thinks?
A few years ago I was tasked with leading an evangelism training for college students. As a ministry we wanted to ensure that when we asked students and staff to “share the Gospel” that we knew what that meant and had some practical tools to do it. The first question I asked myself and our students was, “Did Jesus ‘share the Gospel?'”
The answer to that question was somewhat surprising. Yes, Jesus spoke of the Gospel. But probably not in the way that many evangelicals would think. For years the images conjured up in my head at the thought of “sharing the Gospel” were akin to a used car salesman’s pitch of “What do I have to do to get you in this Taurus today?” Why would I even want a Taurus and why does I have to have it be today?
Exploring Jesus’ concept of the Gospel was incredibly freeing. When the Gospel writers give context to the concept of Jesus’ teaching and actions surrounding the idea of “the Gospel” is it typically linked with the idea of the kingdom of God (see Mark 1:14-15; Matthew 4:23, 9:35). That begged the question, “What is the kingdom of God?” which meant I had to spend time in those dreaded parables.
Matthew was particularly cruel– or kind depending on your perspective on parables– by including a series of “kingdom of God” parables that serve three timely purposes.
- Since Jesus’ often linked the concept of the gospel with the idea of the kingdom of God (or the synonymous term “heaven”), understanding what Jesus meant by the kingdom should inform how Christians in general and evangelicals specifically speak about our faith.
- In a contentious election environment in the states, understanding the kingdom of heaven to which Jesus invites his followers has tremendous implications for how we live, how we speak and how we align or refuse to align ourselves with groups, parties or organizations.
- After exploring Jesus’ kingdom of God statements it becomes clear that Jesus invites his followers to allegiances that transcend any geo-political, ethnic and, dare I say, even denominational affiliations. To follow Jesus is to be devoted to the reign and rule of God on earth as it is in heaven. Consequently, participation in any body, however aligned or well-intentioned, that finds itself in opposition to that stated end is not justifiable for followers of Jesus.
So I invite you to journey with me through several of Jesus’ kingdom of God parables over the next few weeks. In so doing, my hope and prayer is that we as followers of Jesus are called to greater faithfulness and challenged to re-evaluate when necessary our pattern of life and thought. And, since Jesus often framed the kingdom in the context of evangelism, my hope and prayer is also for those who may stumble across these posts and be compelled to explore this Jesus thing a little more closely.