Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.” The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” Matthew 13.3-11.
“Secrets of the kingdom? What secrets?” might well have been the reaction of any Jew upon hearing Jesus’ tell the disciples why he taught in parables. For there was nothing at all secret about the kingdom so far as Israel was concerned. The coming of the reign of God in apocalyptic power and majesty at the end of the age was the expectation of every Jew. The promise of it was contained on almost every page of the Scriptures … and particularly in Daniel who saw in a vision, “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7.13-14).
So where is the mystery (the Greek word translated “secrets” is mysteria)? If God’s coming kingdom is a secret, it’s a very open one!
Well, as the parable Jesus had just told and many of his other parables show, the mystery lay not in the fact of the kingdom but in the manner of its coming. With the advent of Jesus, the kingdom had already secretly entered the world and was already growing in an unseen, hidden way among ordinary men and women. Whenever and wherever the words of Jesus fell into hearts that were ready — “good soil” — the reign of God began and a tiny outpost of the coming kingdom became established. At first it was just in a few fisherman, then it was in people like Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene … and day by day it grew and has kept on growing. A kingdom of what could once be counted on one hand is now a kingdom of millions, and by and large the world still does not know that it even exists! It sees “the church” — an outdated, outmoded, irrelevant manifestation of misguided religious beliefs — and dismissively goes on its way. Rocky ground, shallow soil, choking thorns.
But underneath the cloth, the dough is rising (Matthew 13.33); below ground the mustard seed has germinated and the shoot is heading for the surface where it will become a great tree (Matthew 13.31). The hidden kingdom is being prepared for the second advent of Jesus — Daniel’s “son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” — when it will at last be revealed in all its wonder and all its glory.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for letting me into the secret … and making me part of it. Amen.