If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 13. We have already surveyed 7 kingdom parables in this great passage, and we refer to them as “kingdom parables” because each of these 7 parables are designed to teach us unexpected qualities of the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God. They are designed to correct misunderstandings that we might have about the nature of the kingdom that the Lord Jesus Christ came to set up. And this is obviously important for Jesus’ disciples. Jesus had already commissioned them to be preachers of the kingdom of heaven. It was their job to proclaim this kingdom to their generation. Now you can’t proclaim what you don’t understand.
No businessman would send a salesman out to sell a product that He did not have any basic understanding of. “Well what does it do?” the customer says. “I don’t know.” “Well how will it help me?” “Well, I don’t know.” “Well how much does it cost?” “Well, I don’t know.” “Well why should I buy it?” “Well I don’t–” “Get out.” Your salesman has to know something about the product that he is trying to sell. So also the proclaimer of the kingdom must understand the nature of the kingdom before he is capable of proclaiming it. That which the disciples learn, they are to pass on. But they must learn before they pass it on. They must learn the nature of the kingdom before they proclaim it. And so the Lord Jesus, in this whole passage, is focusing His attention on his disciples understanding precisely the nature of the kingdom that He has called them to proclaim. But that understanding of the kingdom is no less important for us than it was for them. Because by His grace, we are called to be citizens of this kingdom. And we must understand the nature of the kingdom too, if we are going to be good citizens of the kingdom.
Now so far we have learned several important lessons from the parables. And I would invite you to look with me beginning in verse 3 of Matthew chapter 13, and let’s do some review. Seven parables we have seen so far, seven great lessons or messages or truths about the kingdom we have learned. First of all, in verses 3 through 9 in the parable of the sower, we learned there that though the good seed is sown, it is sown in different kinds of soils. In fact, 3 of the 4 kinds of soils end up rejecting the message. It does not come to fruition. And we learn there that there will be many who, though the good seed is shared with them, they will reject the Messiah, and they will reject the message. So in that passage we are taught that though the kingdom message goes out, not everyone will respond favorably to it. And remember, we said that was so important because the disciples were expecting a nationwide revival when Jesus’ preaching came. There was revival in part, but there were more who rejected Him during His earthly ministry than accepted him. And it was vital for the disciples not to be surprised by that, and Jesus is teaching them that, in the parable of the sower.
Then, if you will look at verses 24 through 30, in those verses we see the parable of the wheat and the tares. That parable teaches us that the kingdom itself will be imperfect until the Day of Judgment. The disciples again were expecting a nationwide embrace of Christ, and all the righteous would be inside the kingdom, and all the wicked would be outside the kingdom. And in this parable, Christ is reminding His disciples that the kingdom in its present form, in its now form, will be mixed. And not until the final judgment would there be a perfectly pure kingdom.
So that there would be some within the kingdom that professed Christ, and yet were actually not believers in him. And the disciples, again, must not be discouraged by that. That’s not something that took the king off guard. He knew His kingdom would be like that in the present. When the not yet comes, then the perfection comes. And so that message is carried across in the parable of the tares.
Then look at verses 31 and 32. In verses 31 and 32 we see the parable of the mustard seed. And that parable teaches us not to despise small beginnings in the work of the gospel. Jesus had somewhat deflated now the disciples expectations of the nature of the kingdom. The disciples were expecting the Lord at any moment to establish His glorious kingdom. And they were even vying for what seats they would sit in in this prominent kingdom. Now He has told them that many people will reject him, in fact 3 out of 4 of the soils end up rejecting the good seed of the word. And He has told them that the kingdom would be mixed, so that there will even be some who are wicked who profess to be righteous inside the kingdom. And now they are thinking, “Well this kingdom doesn’t look anything like we were expecting.” And they may be tempted to undervalue that kingdom. And He says to them, “Though the kingdom is like a mustard seed, it will grow. Do not despise the small beginnings of the kingdom. Though we may be marginal in Israel, yet the kingdom will grow to be a great tree, the largest of the garden plants. God’s word will work, the kingdom will grow, you just be faithful, do your work, and be confident that I will be faithful to my word.”
Then, if you will look at verses 33 through 35, we saw in the fourth parable, the parable of the leaven, a similar message. In that parable we are taught never to underestimate the total impact of the kingdom. Even if works silently; even if it works unostentatiously. Like the yeast in the bread, it rises. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. It affects every part of the bread. And though you may not sit there and watch it rise, be able to see it noticeably from one second to the next, yet the leaven of the kingdom works. The power of the Spirit works. And even if it is unimpressive outwardly in the form in which it is working, yet it surely impacts every part of the bread. And so in that parable He teaches us never to underestimate the total impact of the kingdom.
Then again, in verse 44, you will see the fifth parable, the parable of the hidden treasure. There He reminds us that the true value of the kingdom is absolutely priceless. It is the most expensive, it is the most wonderful thing in the world, but it’s hidden to some. Not everyone sees the value of the kingdom. In that way it is like a hidden treasure. Those who find that treasure rejoice over it, and they embrace it, and they are willing to sell everything that they have. But many walk right over it and never see it. And so again, He reminds the disciples of the value of that treasure, and yet He reminds them that not everyone sees that value.
Again in the sixth parable of Matthew 13, in verses 45 and 46, we see the parable of the priceless pearl. He reiterates in that parable that belonging to the kingdom is worth more than anything else in the world. Just like that pearl of great value was worth more than anything else that that merchant had. And so He was willing to sell everything to get it. So also the kingdom is more important than anything else; everything else put together in life. Knowing the king, being in the kingdom, it’s the most important thing in life.
And then finally in the parable of the dragnet, if you will look at verses 47 through 50, we learn there that Jesus reemphasizes a truth that He has already taught us in the parable of the tares and the wheat. That is, though the kingdom is mixed in this present age, though the kingdom is not perfect in this present age, there is a mixture of truth and falsehood, even within the people who are professing to be part of the kingdom. There are true believers, and there are false believers within the kingdom. Even so, at the judgment day the kingdom will be purified. In these 7 parables, Jesus is teaching the disciples crucial aspects of the kingdom. Aspects of the kingdom that they would have been tempted to miss or look over or misunderstand. And so He explains these things to them so that they can proclaim the kingdom.
Now, our text is Matthew 13, verses 51 and 52. Two short verses packed with practical spiritual truth. And if we are truly citizens of the Lord’s kingdom, then these truths will make a practical difference in our lives and in our thoughts and in our priorities, in our attitudes. Let’s hear then God’s Holy and inspired word beginning in Matthew 13, verse 51:
“Have you understood all these things?” And they said to him, ‘Yes.’ And He said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old.'”
Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s look to Him again in prayer.
Our Father, we thank You for the truth of this word. And we ask especially today that we would not simply be interested by this truth, or even instructed by this truth, but by the Spirit we would embrace this truth practically in our lives. That it would be transforming, that by the power of the Spirit, this truth would be applied to our hearts and from our hearts to the whole of our existence. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
In Matthew 13, verses 44 to 52, Jesus clearly has His disciples and their ministry on His mind. In those last three parables that He tells, and in these two verses where He asks them a question, and then makes another story example for them, He clearly has what He has called them to be, and the mission that He has given to them, on His mind. He wants them to be very clear about what it means to be a part of the kingdom, and what it means to profess the message of the kingdom. He wants them to understand the nature of that kingdom as they go about proclaiming it.
And these two verses are designed to move us to do two things: they are designed to move us to embrace the truth that Jesus taught in His parables, to apply that truth to our own hearts. Jesus doesn’t want us simply to be interested by these parables. Jesus doesn’t want us to be smarter because we have listened to these parables. Jesus wants these parables to change the way we think about the kingdom. But more than that He wants these parables to transform the way we live as part of the kingdom. So Jesus isn’t just wanting to convey useful information here. Jesus is wanting to convey truth that will transform our hearts and our lives. And so when He asks that question, “Have you understood these things,” He is pressing us in the direction of applying this truth, and not simply leaving it up in the air or in our heads. He wants to integrate it into our lives.
But there is a second thing that this passage desires to get across today, and that is this. In this passage, we are moved to understand the nature of truly Christian preaching and teaching. This passage is designed to help us understand the nature of truly Christian preaching, and the nature of true Christian doctrine in its relationship to the old testament. Jesus in this passage talks about the scribe of the kingdom who brings out of His treasure things both old and new. And so in this passage He is implying that there is something different about His disciples, and the scribes of Israel who teach the law and the traditions. Oh yes, His disciples will bring out of their treasure teaching from the Old Testament, but they will bring out of that treasure teaching from the Old Testament viewed through the spectacles of His teaching about the kingdom of heaven. And so both of those things, this understanding of the truth taught in the parables embraced by us, and an understanding of the nature of true Christian preaching, both of those things are in view in this passage for us today.
I. The question about understanding.
The first thing which we ought to notice in these verses is the striking question with which our Lord winds up the seven wonderful parables of this chapter. “Have you understood all these things?” In verse 51 Jesus asks that question, “Have you understood all these things?” He says this to His disciples, and they reply, “Yes.” and in that short exchange we learn that Christians must endeavor to embrace the truth of God preached. We as Christians must endeavor to embrace the truth of God preached. It’s not simply to be listened to, it is not simply to pique our interest, but we are to embrace it with our hearts, with our lives, as we hear the truth of God proclaimed. The question that Jesus asks here is designed to press His disciples to grasp the implications of the parables that He has been teaching.
Now we know that the people who listened to the parables were interested. And some of them got an inkling of what Jesus was talking about. And we know that the disciples understood many things – by their own words they understood many things that Jesus was teaching in these parables. But Jesus doesn’t just want to change the minds of the disciples. He wants to change their lives. He wants them to change the way they look at the kingdom, and He wants them to change the way they live in the kingdom. Listen to what William Hendriksen says, “By means of His question, Jesus gives the disciples the opportunity to ask for more information about the kingdom in case there should be matters that are not clear to them. Their answer, “Yes,” implies that as they themselves see it, their insight has been immeasurably deepened. In other words, by saying “Yes” the disciples aren’t claiming that they understood everything that Jesus said in all of its implications. But they are saying this; “Lord, yes. We have an immeasurably deeper insight into what Your kingdom is like now, than before you told us these parables. We have gotten the message. We understand that what we thought the kingdom was going to be like is very different from what You are telling us that Your kingdom is going to be like.” They are professing to the Lord that His teaching got through.
Jesus is applying – by the use of this question – He is applying the truth of those parables to the disciples’ hearts by means of a question which is designed to provoke them to meditation. By saying, “Have you understood all this?” He is provoking them to think back through everything that He has taught them and say, “Well have I seen the implication of all that? Has that impacted the way that I’m going to proclaim the kingdom the next time I go out? Has that impacted the way I’m going to look at the kingdom and live within the kingdom that I am saying that I am a part of?” Jesus is wanting them to meditate about what He has already taught them. And He is wanting them to reflect upon that and have a change result in their own lives. He’s doing personal, practical, pastoral application of the truth in that question. And that is, of course, the soul of preaching. J.C. Ryle says, “A sermon without application is like a letter posted without an address. It may be well written, it may be rightly dated, it may be duly signed, but it is useless because it never reaches its destination.” beautiful letter. There’s just no address on it. So also the sermon without that application is like a letter that is not addressed.”
Why is the application of the truth so important? Because the mere hearing of the word profits no one. Jesus Himself, over and over, calls the disciples not to be hearers of the word, but hearers and doers of the word. It is not enough for our bodies to be brought within the reach of the sound of the preacher’s voice. Our hearts, our minds, our consciences, our lives must be brought within the reach of the judgment of the word of God that we might be changed. Because God is not simply trying to interest us, He is not trying to entertain us through the proclamation of His word, He is not even, ultimately, simply trying to fill our minds with information, as important as that may be from time to time. He is desiring to see our lives transformed.
Really, very few public speakers aim for less than that. There are people that are on the dinner circuit who go out simply to entertain. Perhaps you have been to a company banquet where an entertainer was brought in simply to provide comic relief from heavy material that you have been learning in a 3-day conference where you had 8 hours of statistics every day, and you’ve just got to have someone in to bring in a little relief. And so you have these sort of dinner speakers. And their job is not so much to convey information or teach you anything. It is to entertain you.
But really, no teacher or preacher worth his salt desires you simply to be interested in what they are saying. They want your lives to be transformed by it. Even a business teacher wants that when he is speaking at a conference. He wants you, for instance, to know how to negotiate better after you’ve listened to his talk. He wants your life to be changed by it. How much more does the minister of the gospel want to see lives transformed by what he says. And application is involved with taking the truth and bringing it to bear on your heart. So that by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, your life will be changed. So J.C. Ryle says, “On our part as hearers of the word, let us take with us to church not only our bodies but our minds, our reason, our hearts and our consciences. God wants to search us out in our inmost being in the proclamation of His word. And He wants to transform our lives by it.”
Let me give you some examples of that. Turn back to Matthew 13, verse 3, and let’s walk through those 7 parables, and let’s look at some of the obvious pastoral applications that we see there. God does not want us to listen to a sermon, and not see the implications or accept the implications of it for our life. And let me say a word about specific applications. I’m just going to give you some examples of specific applications today. Just because this specific application isn’t the one that is the most obvious to you, or the most applicable to you, does not mean that this passage does not have an application to you. There are many accurate and truthful applications of the word of God. I’m simply giving examples to get your juices going on how, as you read the word of God, or hear the word of God preached, you can, yourself, actively be involved in applying the word to your own heart. The minister may use an illustration which is very attractive to you and helps you understand, but it may not be a circumstance which is yours at all. Your situation may be entirely different. But that does not mean that the word of God is not always applicable to you. It always is. And the examples that I give now are simply that. They are examples. We could produce many more.
Look at the first parable in verses 3 through 9, the parable of the sower. Now we have already said that in that parable Jesus warns His disciples that there are going to be many who reject His message and reject Him. Now how would that apply to us? Well one of the obvious applications of that parable is to examine ourselves for fruit. That parable tells of four soils on which good seed was planted. Only on one of those four soils did fruit result from the good seed of the word. Now the obvious application f that when we read it or when we hear it preached is to ask the question, “Am I bearing fruit? Is the fruit of the gospel apparent in my life? If not, maybe I’m one of those other soils.” That’s an obvious application of that truth.
Look at verses 24 through 30, the parable of the tares. That parable reminds us that the kingdom is imperfect now. Now you may be a person who has been deeply disappointed by the church in the past because of the conduct of a church member towards you. Perhaps you have been dealt with unfairly. Perhaps you have been taken advantage of, you have been dealt with in an unchristian manner by someone who professes to be a Christian, and you are tempted to be cynical about that hypocrisy which is in the church. And you are tempted to write off what God is doing in the Church because of the hypocrisy in the Church. But this parable tells you that the kingdom is imperfect now. Those words come from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore, your proper response to seeing that in the Church is, of course, to go before the Lord with disappointment, and lift that up to Him, and ask Him to make His Church more into the conformity of the Lord Jesus Christ. But not to be surprised when you see unchristian behavior. And even those who profess to be believers not showing any signs of being believers, you’re not surprised by that. Because the Lord Jesus told you that it was going to happen 2000 years ago.
Another application, if you look at verses 31 and 32, in the parable of the mustard seed. That parable taught us not to despise small beginnings. Maybe you are laboring for the gospel. Maybe you are a minister. Maybe you are a missionary. And you haven’t seen the kind of results that you wanted to see from the word. Maybe you are a mother who has been faithfully, by example and by teaching of the word, sharing the gospel with her children, and those children have become adults, and they have not embraced the faith. You’re brokenhearted, disappointed. This parable is saying, “Are you discouraged? The kingdom will grow. It is going to grow. No matter how small, no matter how peripheral, no matter how ineffective it seems to be, the kingdom will grow. Do not be discouraged.”
There is a similar parable and a similar application that we learn in verses 33 through 35 in the parable of the leaven. We said in that parable that we were never to underestimate the impact of the kingdom. Well again, are you feeling like you’re efforts have been in vain? You have been serving the Lord faithfully in your family, in your church, and you don’t seem to be seeing any fruit of your labor. You have desired revival, and you have desired to see regeneration and other blessings of the Spirit result. And you have been frustrated, and you haven’t seen as much as you wanted to see. Or you have seen other frustrations come into the ministry, and this parable is there to remind us that we should never doubt the spiritual power of the kingdom. It’s as strong as leaven. It always works. When the leaven of the Spirit is at work in the kingdom, it always causes the measure to rise. It’s going to work. So those are two words of encouragement.
Then in verses 45 and 46, in the parable of the priceless pearl, we remember that that parable teaches us that the kingdom is worth more than anything in life. What’s the obvious application of that? Why it’s so straightforward, isn’t it? I read of this kingdom that’s worth more than everything else. I simply ask the question, “Is it really? Is it really worth more than anything else for me? Is it worth more than money, is it worth more than relationships? Is it worth more than children? Is it worth more than family? Is it worth more than status? Is it worth more than influence? Is it worth more than popularity or beauty? Is it worth more than anything in my life? Am I ready to say I will give up everything if only I can have a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and be a part of His kingdom? Is that where I am?” The application is obvious.
And then again, in the parable of the dragnet, verses 47 through 50, which reminds us again that the kingdom is mixed. There are some in the kingdom that profess the Lord Jesus Christ, but they’re bad fish. That’s Jesus’ metaphor in that passage. Again the application is obvious. “Am I a good fish or a bad fish? I know I’m a part of the outward kingdom. I’ve professed the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m a part of His Church. Am I a good fish or am I a bad fish? Have I truly embraced Jesus or am I just going through the motions? Have I truly been changed by the gospel, or am I a person who professes to believe, but have never had a transformation of my heart by the grace of the Holy Spirit?”
The application of the word of God is essential to our growing by it. Matthew Henry, a long time ago, said, “It is the will of Christ that those who read and hear the word should understand it. It is therefore good for us, when we have read or heard the word, to examine ourselves, to be examined as to whether we have understood it or not.” And that’s so true. And that’s precisely what Jesus is doing by asking those disciples the question, “Have you understood all these things?”
II. Christians must understand the task of the gospel minister and the nature of his message.
And there’s one more thing I want to point you to in this passage. You will see it in verse 52. In verse 52 we learn that Christians must understand the task of the gospel minister and the nature of his message. The Christian must understand the task of the gospel minister – here Jesus calls him the true scribe – and the nature of His message. Jesus says to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” Christ’s disciples were learning so as to teach. And He wanted to stress to them that the things that He was giving to them were not things that they were to keep and ponder in their hearts and not share with anyone else so that they could become great spiritual giants.
The reason that He was giving this truth to them was so that they could share it with anyone, with everyone else with whom they came into contact. And that is precisely why the Lord gives the truth to us. Not only to grow us up in the faith, but so that we might share it with others that they might embrace Christ. And so He compares them to those who are heads of household, those who are enriched. They had a household over which they have a charge, and they have a responsibility to feed that household. And so Jesus speaks of the disciples as if they had a spiritual responsibility to feed the household. They don’t have to provide the literal bread, but they do have to provide the spiritual bread.
And He also compares them to a recognized teacher of the law. That’s somewhat surprising. He calls them scribes, scribes who have become disciples of the kingdom. That’s interesting because Jesus was always having run-ins with the scribes and the Pharisees. But He’s contrasting His disciples with the scribes of the law. The scribes of the law taught the people in accordance with the Old Testament as interpreted by the traditions of men. The scribes of the kingdom were to instruct God’s people in the Old Testament through the eyes of the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus teaching about the kingdom of heaven. And so Jesus’ scribes were different from the teachers of the law. What they have learned from Jesus about the kingdom must now be taught and imparted to others as they carry out their responsibility. Christ stresses that His disciples must understand the kingdom. They were scribes who have become disciples of the kingdom.
What did it mean for them to be disciples of the kingdom? It means four things, Jesus says in this short verse – in verse 52. First of all they are to be disciples of the kingdom in this sense: they are to be students of the word of God, and they are to be followers of the kingdom of heaven. To be a disciple means more than simply to be a student in the sense of learning things. To be a disciple means for your life to be transformed, to follow in a different way. And Jesus says, “Who are the people who are the scribes of My kingdom? The disciples of My kingdom? They are people who are followers of Me.” They not only learn the truth, but they live the truth.
Now let me say that it is one of the sad things that in the United States today in evangelical pulpits, never before has there been a greater lack of people who believe the truth and live the truth than now. And we need to pray that God would raise up men to preach the word of God in the United States, in our own land, our own city, our own state, who both believe the truth and live the truth. There are many who no longer believe the truth any more. And so they give their people something else. And there are certainly many who do not live the truth. And so their lives are given over to immorality. We need to look for scribes who are disciples of the kingdom who love the truth. They have learned the truth, and they live the truth.
The second thing that we see that Jesus says here is that the scribe who is the disciple of the kingdom is considered significant in God’s eyes. Even if the world says, “Well that person isn’t important. Well, that sure is peripheral. Why would you want to go listen to that kind of preaching?” God sees the true scribe of the kingdom as very important. God looks on him like a householder. He’s one who is enriched, and he’s enriched in order that he can provide for his family. And so, though the world may consider that disciple of Christ, that preacher of the word, to be insignificant, God sees his role as very significant. His role is to be a blessing to others, and to share with others out of the wealth of what the Lord has given him.
The third thing that Christ says about the scribe, the disciple of the kingdom, is that he has a responsibility to provide for his house. Look at His words. “He is like the head of the household who brings out of his treasure.” Why does he bring out of his treasure? To look at it.
No. “To provide for his family.” He brings out of the treasure that he has in order to provide. And so the scribe who is the disciple of the kingdom has a responsibility to provide spiritual food for the family of God.
And fourth and finally, the scribe of the kingdom teaches things both new and old. He draws out of the Old Testament, but he teaches the foundational truths of the Old Testament in light of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven. So the difference between the scribe of the law and the scribe of the kingdom is this. The scribe of the law he does not have the insight of the gospel of the kingdom of heaven through which to look at the teachings of the Old Testament. The scribe of the kingdom however, can, just as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus, teach Christ from all the Scriptures. And that is what we look for when we look for scribes of the kingdom. It’s so important for us to know what Jesus expects from those who are disciples of the kingdom, who herald His word, so that, so that we can place ourselves under a ministry where we do not have to screen it for false teaching. Where we can go about the business of doing what we are supposed to do in the teaching of the word of God, and that is seeing it applied to our lives.
You don’t want to sit under a ministry where you have to weed out 80% of what is said because it’s not biblical. You want to sit under a ministry where you can receive the truth of the word, and you can open your heart up for the Spirit to apply it to you practically. And so the Lord Jesus wants you to know what a true disciple of the kingdom looks like.
And of course, those disciples teach the whole counsel of God, things both old and new, from the law and from the gospel, from the Old Testament and the New Testament. One of the greatest preachers of our time, a preacher that I love to listen to, openly tells his congregation, “I never preach from the Old Testament. I only preach from the New.” There is only one Old Testament book he has ever preached from. He only preaches from the New Testament. But the scribe of the kingdom brings out of his treasure things both old and new. He preaches the whole counsel of God.
When I was in Edinburgh, I had the opportunity to hear a series of evangelistic sermons preached at St. Columbia Free Church. And they were preached by a big, broad shouldered Jamaican brother. And he would lean over the pulpit and look right into our eyes. And I’ll never forget, he was preaching on Proverbs, an evangelistic series from Proverbs. And his theme which he repeated every night and which I can still remember this day went like this, “The whole of life must be brought under the control of Jesus Christ. And in order for the whole of life to be brought under the control of Jesus Christ, the whole of life must be brought under the control of the whole of Scripture.” And I was nailed to my pew. Yes, sir. The whole of life, in order to be brought under the control of Jesus Christ, must be brought under the control of the whole of Scripture. Not just part of it but the whole of Scripture. And so he had it just right. The disciple of the kingdom preaches the whole counsel of God for the spiritual blessing of your soul. May the Lord bless His word. Let’s look to him in prayer.
Our Lord and our God, by the power of Your Spirit help us not merely to be hearers of the word, but doers of it. Help us to love the word, to desire to study it and learn from it, but more to see our lives transformed by it. We ask it in Jesus name. Amen
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