STUDY SIXTEEN: A CHALLENGE TO RADICAL PRIORITIZATION [Matthew 13:44-46; 19:16-30; 21:28-46; 22:1-14]

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012

A. THE PRIORITY OF THE KINGDOM

As we have already seen in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us that we are to ‘seek first’ the kingdom of God. Again in the parables, Jesus teaches that his kingdom is to take priority over everything else. His kingdom is the greatest treasure, the one thing above all else, that is of ultimate and immeasurable value. To possess his kingdom is to gain the ultimate. To miss out on his kingdom is the ultimate disaster.

Reflection and response: Discuss the following parables. What images do they use to describe the ultimate value of the kingdom of Christ? What is Christ’s purpose in using this parable – what does he want us to learn? How does he want us to change our priorities? What should we value most?

The parable of the hidden treasure [Matthew 13:44]

 

 

The parable of the pearl of great value [Matthew 13:45-46]

 

 

Now read these Scriptures. What do they teach us about our priorities?
Matthew 6:19-24; 6:33; Luke 18:18-30; Philippians 3:8-9a

 

 

 

Comments:
William Hendriksen: ‘The point of the parable is that the kingdom of heaven, the glad recognition of God’s rule over heart and life, including salvation for the present and for the future, for soul and ultimately also for the body, the great privilege of being thereby made a blessing to others to the glory of God, all this, is a treasure so inestimably precious that one who obtains it is willing to surrender for it whatever could interfere with having it. It is the supreme treasure because it fully satisfies the needs of the heart. It brings inner peace and satisfaction. … Of course, the possession of the treasure also implies love for the Word, but rather than loading the parable with subjective allegorical embellishments of individual items, we should grasp its one important lesson: the incalculable preciousness of salvation for those who discover it and obtain possession of it without even looking for it! ’ [p576, ibid, commenting on the Hidden Treasure.]

John Calvin:
‘ … these parables are intended to instruct believers to prefer the kingdom of heaven  to the whole world, and therefore to deny themselves and all the desires of the flesh, that nothing may prevent them from obtaining so valuable a possession. We are greatly in need of such a warning; for we are so captivated by the allurements of the world, that eternal life fades from our view; and in consequence of our carnality, the spiritual graces of God are far from being held by us in the estimation which they deserve. Justly, therefore, does Christ speak in such lofty terms of the excellence of eternal life, that we ought not to feel uneasiness at relinquishing, on account of it, whatever we reckon in other respects to be valuable. [p265, ibid, – commenting on the Hidden Treasure and the Precious Pearl]

Relevant to this point is the incident centred on the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-30.  It is evident from this report that this young man, while appearing to be focused on the kingdom, is actually focused on himself.  His priority is neither the kingdom nor the King. His priority is his own comfort. His failure to submit to the command of the King means a failure to enter and enjoy the kingdom.


A.1 Why is the kingdom so important? And why is it imperative that we value the kingdom?
Each of the parables above sound like ‘evangelistic’ messages, messages aimed at motivating people to choose the kingdom of Christ. These two parables in Matthew 13 were spoken only to his disciples.  Why does he need to urge this importance on his followers? They have, after all, already chosen to follow him. Why does he need to teach his followers that the kingdom of heaven is the ultimate treasure and to urge them to value the kingdom above all else?

A.1.1 The kingdom is important because Jesus Christ is the king
The core significance of the kingdom is the identity of the King. The kingdom to which every Christian belongs is the ultimate kingdom and the ultimate treasure because God is the King: he who is the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists is the King of the Kingdom. To say that ‘God’ is the King is also to say that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is ‘God over all’ [Romans 9:5] is the King. The One to whom every knee will bow [Philippians 2:10], the One who holds the whole universe together by his powerful word [Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3], the One to whom all judgment has been given [John 5:22] and to whom all honour is due [John 5:23], the One who holds in his hand the keys of life and death [Revelation 1:18], and the One who is called ‘Lord of lords and King of kings’ – he is the King of this kingdom which he commands us to treasure above all else. A flippant, uncommitted attitude to the kingdom and its operating principles ignores the identity of the King.

 

A.1.2 The kingdom is important because it is the core content of the gospel of Christ
The Gospels and Acts record the preaching of the gospel as the preaching of ‘the kingdom’. This may seem strange to us. We have been conditioned to think of the gospel as an offer of salvation – something that is very much centred on the human need to be saved. The New Testament, however, centres the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the honour and recognition due to him as the King: he is the King of the Kingdom. With his coming the Kingdom comes near to men. His coming in human flesh is God’s ultimate self-revelation and God’s last call to repent and believe – to change our minds [this is the meaning of the Greek metanoeo] and transfer our allegiance and obedience from the gods of this world, whether they are ourselves, or physical idols, or conceptual idols, and honour and obey Christ alone as our God and our King. The Gospel is a call to recognize, believe in, and submit to the divine King. A failure to value the kingdom indicates [1] a failure to recognize the Christ-centred nature of the Gospel, and [2] an unbiblical perception that the Gospel is centred on me.

 

Check out the following references. Write out the key concept about the gospel message contained in them all.
Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 13:19; 10:7; 13:19; 14; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 9:2, 11, 60; 16:16; Acts 1.3; 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31

 

 

A.1.3 The kingdom is important because of the high cost of membership
Every genuine believer/disciple of Jesus Christ is already a member of Christ’s kingdom. It is not something that we have to try to enter; it is not something we will earn entrance to by tallying up brownie points. The New Testament clearly teaches that entrance to the kingdom and membership of the Kingdom is the result of the action of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that we are members of his Kingdom only through the death and resurrection of Christ by which we were rescued from the dominion [kingdom] of Satan.

Believers who fail to value the kingdom [1] fail to recognize the amazing love, grace and power of God that acted on their behalf to make them members of the kingdom, [2] fail to remember the darkness, destruction and destitution of that other kingdom from which they have been rescued, and [3] fail to realize that when they devalue or despise or ignore the kingdom to which they now belong they are also devaluing, despising and ignoring the saving death of Christ, the grace of God and Christ himself.

 

 

Read and discuss the following verses. What do they teach about

[1] the Kingdom [how is it described?]

[2] how, and by whose action, does a person become a member of the Kingdom?

[3] our condition or allegiance before we became members of the Kingdom

Luke 12:32

 

 

 

John 3:3-8

[compare John 1:12]

 

 

Romans 5:17-18

[you need to think carefully about this one!]

 

Ephesians 1:18-23

 

 

 

Ephesians 2:1-6

[Compare John 12:31]

 

 

Colossians 1:13

 

 

 

 

In Romans 6 Paul takes great pains to affirm the radical change of identity and allegiance that has taken place because of the death of Jesus Christ, and to teach strongly that because believers are now under a new authority their lives should now serve that new authority. We can state this perspective simply: is it okay for the disciples of Jesus Christ to sin? No. Because sin is no longer their king.  Christ has rescued them out from under the rule of sin, and placed them in his own kingdom which is a kingdom of righteousness. Consider Paul’s teaching from Romans 6:

Verses

2-11

 

Christ took us out from under the authority of sin and death through his death as our substitute, and made us members of his kingdom

Therefore we should no longer submit to the demands of sin, but to the authority of Christ who is now our king.

We are considered to have died in his death which was a death ‘to sin’ [fully paying out the penalty for sin]

We were buried in his burial

We were raised to new life in his resurrection

We were united with him in his death

We were crucified in his crucifixion

Having paid the death penalty we are now free from sin’s legal jurisdiction

Neither death nor sin have any authority over us – we owe them nothing.

 

The old priority of serving sin is finished.

 

God’s purpose in it was that we live a new life.

God did it so that we should no longer be under the dominion of sin.

 

We now belong, not to sin and death, but to God and Christ. To live for sin is totally incongruous and inappropriate.

11-14

We no longer belong to sin but to God.

Therefore we should not obey sin as our king.

We should not offer our bodies to serve ‘wickedness’ as our king [the one who dictates our choices], but rather we should offer ourselves to God and righteousness.

‘Sin’ must no longer dominate us.

15-18

Whoever or whatever we obey, that is the person or thing that holds us enslaved.

We used to be under the authority of ‘sin’, but now we are under the authority of ‘righteousness’.

It is therefore totally wrong to continue to serve sin because we have been rescued from sin’s reign.

 

A.1.4 The kingdom is important because it is spiritual and eternal
The kingdom, as Jesus said, is not of this world [John 18;36], it is not a physical political kingdom. It is both spiritual and eternal. In our earth-bound, materialistic mindsets we are constantly drawn to the things we can see. They occupy our time, our thoughts and our energy. We lock ourselves into a time-space framework, forgetting that our physical life on this time-space earth is as transient as the morning mists, as insignificant as grass that is here today and gone tomorrow [Isaiah 40:6-8]. The Christian who fails to value the kingdom as the ultimate treasure is still locked in this temporary, physical, time-space mentality.

Reflection: What do these verses teach about the kingdom as spiritual and eternal?
Luke 1:33b; 17:21; Romans 14:17; 1Corinthians 15:50; 2Peter 1:11
 

 

A.1.5 Recognition of the priority of the Kingdom is essential for the honour of the King
The way we value the Kingdom will be seen in the way we live our lives, and the way we live our lives will either honour or dishonour both the Kingdom and the King. The things we do express our priorities. Our actions identify our allegiance. Disobedience to the principles of the kingdom reveals a low opinion of the Kingdom and the King, and a failure to appreciate the cost of membership of the Kingdom.

 

 

 

Read and discuss these verses. What actions and attitudes do they forbid? Why are these actions and attitudes out of place for members of the Kingdom? How does engaging in these attitudes and actions reveal that we do not value the Kingdom?

1Corinthians 6:9-11

 

 

 

Galatians 5:19-21

 

 

 

Ephesians 5:1-7

 

 

 

 

 

 

A.2 The personal challenge: List the areas of life in which these parables about the ultimate value of the Kingdom challenge you personally to repent and change your priorities.

 

 

 

 

 


B. THE PRIORITY OF REPENTANCE

 

Intrinsic to this priority of the kingdom is the priority of repentance. As we have seen already, ‘repentance’ [metanoeo I change my mind] involves a change of mind. This word [including related words] is used fifty-seven times in the New Testament. The New Testament writers make it clear that this repentance is not restricted to our thinking, but impacts the whole of life; they tell us that we should demonstrate the reality of our mind-change in the practical realities of our lives:

 

Reflection: Underline the words indicating the practical expression of repentance.

Matthew 3:8

 

‘Product fruit in keeping with repentance’

Acts 26:20

 

‘I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds’

Romans 12:2

 

‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’

Ephesians 4:1

 

‘I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.’

Ephesians 4:17, 22,23

 

 

‘I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.’

‘… to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds’

 

 

 

A person becomes a Christian in an initial act of repentance. Repentance, however, does not stop there. It is the on-going mindset of the Christian. There is to be in the Christian life a constant changing of the mind, a constant acknowledgement of the word and the authority of Christ and a constant submission of one’s life, with all its perceptions, attitudes and actions, to his commands and directions. This is the radical priority of repentance.

 

But metanoeoI change my mind - is not the only New Testament word for repentance. There is another word, used in only five verses, that adds a further dimension, a motivating dimension to the Biblical concept of repentance. This other word – metamelomai – also indicates change – a change in what we care about or for [meta – a prefix indicating change, plus melomai – which is derived from melo – to care for]. It is this word that is used in the Parable of the Two Sons in Matthew 21:28-32. Here we see a brief but powerful example of repentance in action. The repentant son:

 

• Changed his action because he changed what he cared about
• Obeyed his father because he cared that he had chosen disobedience
• Regretted his former attitude and action, realising its inappropriateness and wrongness.

 

Because disciples of Christ care about Christ and about their sin they will also be people of repentance – always ready to change their minds, their attitudes and their actions to bring them into conformity with the will and the glory of Christ – irrespective of the humility it takes, irrespective of the ‘loss of face’ involved.  [Note: repentance expresses both the ‘mourning’ and the ‘meekness’ of the Beatitudes.]

 

 

C. THE PRIORITY OF CHRIST

 

The parable of the tenants [Matthew 21:33-46] highlights the priority of Jesus Christ and the extreme urgency of receiving and acknowledging him.  We have already seen that Christ is the King of the Kingdom, to whom our allegiance is due, and that we should be constantly changing our minds to bring our lives into conformity to his commands. Here in this parable of the tenants we are reminded of:

 

C.1 The incredible identity of Jesus Christ
He is the Son
He is the heir of all things

 

C.2 The incredible significance of Jesus Christ
He is the final messenger from his Father
He is the ‘capstone’ or ‘cornerstone’

 

C.3 The incredible significance of our response to Jesus Christ
To reject him is to lose everything
To reject him is to be crushed to pieces

 

Although Jesus originally taught this parable to the Jews to warn them of the terrible consequences they faced in rejecting him, it is also a warning to us to give to Christ the recognition and respect that is due to him.

 

 

 

D. THE PRIORITY OF GOD’S GRACE

 

In the parable of the wedding banquet [Matthew 22:1-14] we see two aspects of the priority of God’s grace:

 

D.1 The priority of God’s invitation
The disciple of Christ must never forget that he is a disciple of Christ because of God’s gracious invitation.

Helmut Thielicke comments:
‘The first thing that strikes us as altogether different in our parable is this, that the kingdom of God is not a state or condition of this world, not an ideal order of nations and life, but that it centres about a person: The king, God himself, is … the source and sustainer of everything that happens. This king gives a wedding banquet. This in any case make one thing clear from the very outset and that is that the kingdom of God has nothing to do with the reformatory and revolutionary efforts of man, who wants to realize social and political programs and is out after utopias. It is God who acts. It is he who prepares the royal banquet. We must therefore take cognizance of something that no man could assert by himself: God wants to prepare a feast for us. He wants us to be his free guests. He wants us to have fellowship and peace with him.

 

‘No man could fairly arrive at this idea by himself. For this God has no reason whatsoever to take us seriously or even to “love” us. The very fact that this God should invite us to his table is in itself a great miracle. … The longer we are Christians the more commonplace does this unheard-of thing become; the miracle is taken for granted … we can hardly appreciate the tremendous blessedness of that invitation.’ [p183-184, ibid]

 

There were those who received the invitation, but failed to recognize and appreciate its significance. They considered that their human commitments, agendas and allegiances took priority over the invitation.

 

But the disciples of Christ, who have responded to his gracious invitation, who are in his kingdom and at his ‘feast’, also stand in danger of failing to value this invitation of God, this entry into his presence, this celebration of his joy. We stand in danger of losing touch with its utter unexpectedness and its sheer grace. And forgetting this, we also stand in danger of saying, ‘No, I have my own commitments, my own agenda, my own allegiances. No. I do not give priority to this invitation, even though I have responded to it, even though I am here at the party.’ Even here, at the party we are in danger of being so full of ourselves and our own endeavours that we fail to enjoy the immeasurable blessings of salvation that God has provided for us in Christ.

 

 

D.2 The priority of God’s provision
Perhaps this is why Jesus included the section about the man wearing his own clothes. Whatever his presence at the party might indicate, the important thing is that he had failed to put on the wedding clothes provided by the king. There he stood in the presence of the king at the wedding banquet of the king’s son wearing his street clothes.

 

This is the second challenge of this parable: are we, who are physically in the visible church, trusting in our own righteousness, or are we depending on God’s gracious gift of the righteousness of Christ? Have we, in our familiarity with the Gospel of grace, actually lost sight of its true meaning – that we stand here in the presence of the King, not on the basis of our own performance, not trusting in ourselves, but acceptable only because we are clothed with the righteousness he himself has provided?

 

 

 

What do these texts teach about the ‘clothing’ of the people of God? Who provided it? What is it?

Isaiah 61:10

 

 

Ezekiel 16:10

 

 

Zechariah 3:3-5

 

 

Luke 15:22

 

 

Ephesians 4:24

 

 

Ephesians 6:13-17

 

 

Revelation 3:5

 

 

Revelation 7:9,13,14

 

 

This is the challenge: that we never lose sight of the fact that grace reigns. In this kingdom of Christ of which we are members grace is the operating principle.  We entered the kingdom by God’s gracious call and invitation. We live in his kingdom by that same grace.

 

 
 
E. COMPARISON WITH THE CONTEMPORARY MINDSET

Reflection and response: In the table below compare and contrast these radical priorities to which Jesus challenges us in his parables with the priorities of secular society and contemporary Christianity

The radical priorities of the parables

Priorities of secular society

Priorities of contemporary Christianity

The priority of the kingdom of Christ

 

 

 

 

The priority of repentance

 

 

 

 

The priority of Christ

 

 

 

 

The priority of grace

 

 

 

 

 

G. THE CHALLENGE TO IMPLEMENT THESE PRIORITIES IN OUR SECULAR, MATERIALISTIC WORLD

Reflection and response:

Discuss and list the difficulties of implementing these priorities in the context of our secular, materialistic world.

 

 

 


In what ways are you personally challenged or encouraged by this radical prioritization commanded by Jesus Christ?