Luke: What Is the Kingdom of God Like?

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on October 10, 2010

Luke 13:18-21

The Lord’s Day Morning

October 10, 2010

Luke 13:18-21

“What Is
the Kingdom of God Like?”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke,
chapter 13 as we continue our way through the gospel together. In this passage
Jesus tells two parables, two short stories describing what the
of God is like.

We should be aware of a few things. First of all ‘Kingdom
of God’ is a favorite
theme in Luke’s gospel. This theme is found in all of the gospels. Different
terms are used. ‘Kingdom
of Heaven’, typically
Matthew will use that. That’s a Hebrew idiom where you don’t throw around the
word God lightly so sometimes you substitute terms for God though you’re
referring to God, so ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ instead of ‘Kingdom of God’ referring
to the same idea though. ‘Kingdom
of Christ’ is sometimes
used, but it’s all the same theme. The Kingdom of God
refers to the reign of God in this world and especially in the hearts of men and
women and boys and girls. It is a dynamic concept. It’s not like a kingdom with
walls around it. It’s sort of a pulling up the drawbridge and filling up the
moats with alligators and hunkering in. It’s a kingdom that’s dynamically going
forth in this world and Jesus talks about it all the time. He is an agent of the
kingdom. His gospel is bringing in the kingdom. The kingdom creates the church.

Those two things are related. In fact, they’re inseparable, but they’re
distinguishable–the kingdom creates the people of the kingdom, the church of our
Lord Jesus Christ, and for some reason Jesus thinks important here to pause and
instruct his disciples in the nature of the kingdom and so you and I ought to be
scratching our heads and wondering why. This is not the only time that Jesus
does this, but here Luke, if you’ll notice, connects these two parables with a
‘therefore’ in verse 18.

Now, what does that ‘therefore’ point back to? The immediate context is
Jesus having done this amazing miracle for this woman who has been under a
tremendous burden and satanic oppression for 18 years and the response of the
religious leaders of his day who are present with him, is utter contempt for him
and for her. And it seems that Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Don’t be
discouraged by their response to me. Don’t think that just because the religious
leaders of the day can see me do something like this and not only not get it and
not only not believe my message, and not only not understand who I am, but
actually oppose me, don’t be discouraged by that. The immediate assessment of
your contemporaries is not an adequate indicator of the effectiveness of God’s
kingdom or its one day extent.”

Now, that’s a message that’s important for us, too, because we live in a
world, we live in a country which is increasingly hostile to the claims of the
gospel. We have many contemporaries who think that they understand Christianity
and they think that they’ve tried Christianity or tried the gospel or tried
Jesus and they have weighed them in the balance and found them wanting and they
have moved on and they’re a little bit perturbed that you’re still out there
making claims for Jesus Christ.

And in that context you can be
tempted to do something and that is you can be tempted to change the message to
make the message more palatable and attractive to the world and culture around
you or you can be tempted to adopt different methods which end up changing the
message that you are proclaiming. And so Jesus words to his disciples of
encouragement in the wake of his rejection by the religious leaders of his day
about the kingdom are just as relevant to us today.

So let’s pray before we read
God’s Word.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we ask that You would teach us about the
kingdom, but also that we would so experientially be acquainted with the way of
Your rule in our lives; that we understand that Your kingdom will not fail and
that Your Word will not return void and that Your gospel when proclaimed will
bring men and women and boys and girls to faith in Jesus Christ and that Your
church will be built. Fix these as firm realities in our hearts so that we can
continue to be faithful, joyful, energetic believing witnesses to Your kingdom
and to Your gospel and to Your Son. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the
Word of God beginning in Luke 13: 18:

“He said
therefore, “What is the kingdom
of God like? And to what
shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed
in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made
nests in its branches.”

again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?
It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it
was all leavened.”

And thus this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write
its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Jesus in
these two stories shows how something that looks small can become great.
Something that looks insignificant, but is in fact very significant; something
that looks almost insubstantial can permeate everything. And He’s telling these
stories to encourage His disciples because He is perfectly aware of what the
response to His ministry is and what the response to their ministries will be.

They are
being called to preach Christ and his gospel in a world and into a culture that
will overwhelmingly reject those realities. And if they view the kingdom by the
measure of their contemporaries’ acceptance or rejection of Christ, by their
contemporaries’ acceptance or rejection of their message, they will be
discouraged because though they will see amazing things just like in Jesus’
ministry we saw amazing things. We saw amazing crowds follow Jesus’ ministry
from time to time and we saw amazing responses of faith to Jesus’ ministry from
time to time, and though the disciples, there will be days like the day of
Pentecost when thousands come to trust in Christ, but there will be an
overwhelming either yawn or rejection of their ministry, of their message, and
of their mission by their contemporaries.

I mean,
think of it, my friends. When Jesus first spoke these words there were no people
in this world who called themselves Christian. Today there are about two billion
people on this planet that call themselves Christians. So Jesus is then proven
in His story that the kingdom of God is going forth and though it is small as a
mustard seed now it will grow to be a great tree in which the birds of the air
will nest, but the disciples would not live and minister and see that big
picture. And the fact of the matter is, none of us do and will. And so how we
respond to the indifference or rejection of the kingdom and of the message of
the kingdom and of the gospel and of the Lord Jesus Christ is very, very
important to Jesus. And so Jesus is wanting to encourage the disciples and He’s
wanting to encourage you and me.

And there’s a very important
message to us in our own day and time that I want us to take in both
congregationally and personally. And here’s the message: “Do not despise the day
of small things. Do not judge God’s kingdom by its immediate reception and
effect either in our own hearts or the hearts of those that we long to see
changed by the kingdom or by our communities’ indifference or rejection of the
message we proclaim.

know, just over two centuries ago a German theologian looked out at his culture
and he saw the intellectual elite, the people in the universities, the people in
the professional classes rejecting Christianity because the found it frankly
unbelievable. They were in the midst of the German enlightenment and they were
gripped by the new thinking that was spreading across
Europe and they were rejecting the message of Christianity and he
looked at that culture and he said, “You know, the kingdom is going to fail. The
church is going to dwindle unless we come up with a message that this generation
will believe.” And so he attempted to adapt the gospel message in order to make
it more attractive and palatable to his contemporaries. His name was Friedrich
Schleiermacher and he gave a series of lectures or speeches or addresses called
On Christianity to Its Culture Despisers. Now his goal was not to
destroy Christianity and empty the churches, but that is the effect of his work.
He was the father of what we call today theological liberalism and wherever that
belief reigns, the churches died.

But it was designed to make
the kingdom grow and to make the church prosper and to make the gospel
attractive and palatable and the idea was, we’ve got to change the message if
the kingdom is going to grow, if the church is going to survive, if the message
is going to prevail, we’ve got to change the message.

Now, evangelical Christians
since that time have by and large have rejected that particular approach. We
know that God has given us the message in His Word, but we have tended to fall
prey to a different kind of accommodation. And the kind of accommodation that we
have been tempted to has been, one, to look around at the culture and then to
look at the church and say, “You know, we’re going to have to change the way we
do church if we’re going to be palatable and attractive to the culture.”

When I was in seminary, and it
feels like the Dark Ages now, but it was only just over 25 years ago, the big
thing was this. Some very, very intelligent people had looked across the
landscape of the churches in America
and they said, “You know, people respond to Christianity in America in the
Protestant mainline churches basically with these two reactions. Church,” they
say, “is boring and irrelevant.” And so if we’re going to reach this culture
we’ve got to make the church exciting and relevant. And so the strategy
was–create a church that is positioned to attract the unchurched by giving them
something that is immediately and obviously relevant to them and exciting and
attractive to them.

Now one of the consequences of
that was that Bible preaching, for instance, was not one of the top five things
that unchurched people found exciting and relevant about the church. And so what
happened in many, many churches is the preaching of the Bible disappeared.

And it’s been fascinating. You
know, in the last five years, survey after survey after survey has said that
evangelical Christians, people who say they believe in the Bible and they’re in
church many, many Sundays out of the year, evangelical Christians don’t know
their Bibles. And my response whenever I read one of those surveys is, “Duh!”
Because for the last three decades church has been managed by those who say,
“Don’t preach the Bible. That’s boring and irrelevant. Give them something that
they want. Give them excitement. Give them something that seems immediately
relevant to them. Don’t preach the Bible. That’s boring!” And then we’re
surprised that people don’t know their Bibles.

I like you went through
periods of my life, especially in the teen years, when I found church deadly
boring. And then one day I woke up and suddenly the faithful Bible ministry of
my pastor and my elders didn’t seem boring and irrelevant anymore. It was
precisely what my soul needed and I’m so thankful that my pastor and elders
didn’t stop giving the means of grace as Jesus appointed so that when I woke up
there was something still there for me to hear. There was still a saving truth
to respond to. There was the substance of Jesus’ message still there to arrest
me. And I think it’s important for us to remember that today.

Sometimes the things that we
do may feel to you weak and ineffective. You know, it may seem that the means of
grace and the message of the kingdom are small and weak and ineffective. And it
may seem that the immediate results that the kingdom is having are
insignificant, but Jesus says that God’s kingdom is great and its growth will be
steady and continuous even it is not perceptible in the reactions of our
immediate contemporaries to the message.

And that’s very important for
us to know. You know, we hear drastic reports, for instance, in America today
about how many children of believing homes go off to college and in their early
years of their career and never ever come back to a steady life of participation
in the local congregation. And you have all of these drastic reactions to these
terrifying numbers and statistics that you hear.

And very often the reaction
is, “We’ve got to do something completely different than we’ve ever done
before.” And we forget that parents living the gospel before their children;
teaching the gospel to their children; praying for their children; and bringing
them to be with the people of God every Lord’s Day has for two millennium
nurtured Christianity. It looks weak. It looks small. It looks insignificant,
but God has appointed His means of grace to work in the kingdom He’s built.

Or, we look at the church and
we say, “The church is up against it. The church is struggling. She’s weak
within and wracked with all the same kinds of social challenges and problems
that the culture is wracked with around us and the message seems so weak and
contemptible. It seems so unpalatable and it seems so unpopular.” But when the
Word is preached and baptism and the Lord’s Supper is administered and prayer is
offered as the people of God gather, God blesses His means of grace. The kingdom
goes forth. It creates the church, God’s means of grace work in the world. And
Jesus is encouraging us here to believe that God is building His church. I mean,
that, in the end is the point, isn’t it, that you can study all that the New
Testament says about the kingdom of God
and in none of it will you get this message: “The building of God’s kingdom is
up to you.” Now, we get to participate in it and we must respond to it, but
God’s kingdom is God’s kingdom and He builds His kingdom and what He builds
cannot fail and the way that He builds His kingdom will not fail. It is our job
to believe that and to respond to that and to live accordingly with that–with
that hope that His message will prevail in this world and that the kingdoms of
this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will
reign forever and ever.

It’s so important that we
believe that. It’s so important that we understand that or we’ll be tempted to
change the message or we’ll be tempted to denigrate the means that He has given
for the building up of His church or the message that has been given for the
kingdom to announce.

Maybe you’ve been praying in
vain for God’s kingdom to manifest itself in the heart of a friend or a child or
a brother or a sister or a parent. Do not despise the day of small things
because there are things that look insignificant to our eyes and the Lord is
doing something deeper and bigger than we could ever imagine.

Jesus wants His disciples to
be encouraged by that even when the religious leaders of His day are rejecting
Him. Even after He’s done a mighty miracle they can reject Him. And Jesus says,
“The kingdom in the end will not be judged by them, but when God unveils that
kingdom, when He shows to all of us what He’s been doing, our breath will be
taken away.” And we’ll say, “Jesus, what you said was true. It may be like those
tiny little mustard seeds, but it’s a huge tree now. It may be like that leaven,
but you can’t even detect but that leaven has spread through everything now and
leavened the whole. Your kingdom has grown.”
I love what J. C. Ryle says.

“Christianity is a religion which at first seems so feeble and helpless and
powerless that it could not live. Its first founder was one who was poor in this
world and He ended His life by dying the death of a malefactor on the cross. Its
first adherence were a little company whose number probably did not exceed a
thousand when the Lord Jesus left this world. Its first preachers were a few
fishermen and publicans who were most of them unlearned and ignorant men. Its
first starting point was a despised corner of the earth called Judea, a petty
tributary province of the vast empire of
Rome. Its first doctrine was eminently calculated to call
forth the enmity of the natural heart, Christ crucified was to the Jews a
stumbling block and to the Greeks, foolishness. Its first movements brought down
on its friends persecution from all quarters. Pharisees and Sadducees and Jews
and Gentiles, ignorant idolaters and self-conceited philosophers all agreed in
hating and opposing Christianity. It was a sect everywhere spoken against. These
are no empty assertions. They’re simple historical facts which no one can deny.
If ever there was a religion that was a little grain of seed at its beginning
that religion was the gospel, but the progress of the gospel is great and steady
and continuous.”

It is true, my friends. Do not
think that you have to position and maneuver yourself for God to work even in
this hard-hearted world because the kingdom will be built. The only question is
will we have the pleasure of participating in that. If we trust Him to build His
kingdom and if we use His means, we will have the joy of participating in that,
but we’ll get none of the credit for ourselves because He’s building His


Heavenly Father, we thank You for the kingdom which is not of this world which
You are building in the reign that You have established in our hearts by the
gospel and the church that You have created because of the work of that kingdom.
And we pray, O Lord, in a day in time when the world says to us, “Your message
is no longer compelling to us. Your mission is despicable to us. Your claims are
uncompelling to us.

We pray,
O Lord, that we will hear the words of Jesus speaking more loudly over those
messages of rejection and saying the
of God is like a mustard
seed, my child. And then we pray that you would give us faith even of the size
of the mustard seed for we know that if we but trust Your ends and Your means we
will by grace be able to move mountains.

We ask
these prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now if you’ll take your
hymnals in hand and turn with me to 427 as we prepare to come to the Lord’s
table, let’s sing Charles Spurgeon’s great hymn,
Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands.

[Congregation sings hymn]

be seated.

Apostle Paul tells us of the origin of the Lord’ Supper and its institution in 1
Corinthians 11. He puts it this way:

I received from the Lord that which I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in
the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he
broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of
me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is
the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance
of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the
Lord’s death until he comes.

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy
manner shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must
examine himself, and in so doing, he is to eat of the bread and drink of the
cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does
not judge the body rightly.”

And thus ends this reading of God’s holy Word.

The Lord’s Supper is a
sacrament. It’s a sign and seal of God’s covenant of grace. It’s something that
God give us to confirm His promise to us and to strengthen our faith in that
promise, to assure us of His love and of His saving purposes for us. It’s a
God-appointed means to grow us in grace. It’s one of the principled ways that
God has appointed or ordained to strengthen us in the Christian life. And the
Lord’s Supper we feed on Christ by faith and are strengthened by him. So the
Lord’s table is for those who are believing, who are trusting in the Lord Jesus
Christ and so I would invite to this table, the Lord’s table, all of you who
trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation as He is offered in the gospel
and who have joined yourselves to the body of Christ, the church. If you are
here with us today and you are not a believer, you are welcome, but I charge you
not to come to this table because, if you do, not believing, you will be
precisely the one about whom Paul is speaking about not judging the body
rightly. Do not eat and drink condemnation to yourself. Instead, I would charge
you to wait and think and pray. Think of your heart and your sin. Think of the
claims of Christ the Savior, think of the gospel of grace in the scripture, and
then repent and believe and then the next time we gather at the Lord’s table,
come as a brother or a sister in Christ with us, trusting in Him, and we receive
you gladly in the Lord.

Let us
set apart these common elements to a holy use by prayer. Let’s pray.

God, You are the Lord of creation and of redemption. Triune God, Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit, You have made yourself manifest in the incarnation of our Lord
Jesus Christ. We gather at the Lord’s table today at Your own bidding and we
acknowledge Your grace to us. Make these common elements to serve as Your means
of grace to Your people and grant that we would receive them by faith and so
taste of heavenly mercies that are bestowed only by the Holy Spirit. Lift up our
hearts to heaven on high that we might feed on the risen and ascended Christ in
His glorious humanity by faith. We ask this all through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Since the Lord’s Supper is for
professing believers in Jesus Christ who have discerned the body of the Lord,
it’s appropriate that we confess our faith together before we come to this
table. So do this with me using the Apostles’ Creed.

Christian, what do you believe?

believe in God the Father, Almighty,

Maker of
Heaven and Earth:

And in
Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;

Who was
conceived by the Holy Ghost,

born of
the Virgin Mary,

under Pontius Pilate,

crucified, dead, and buried;

descended into hell;

third day he arose again from the dead;

ascended into heaven,

sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

thence he shall come to judge

quick and the dead.

believe in the Holy Ghost;

the holy
catholic church;

communion of saints;

forgiveness of sins;

resurrection of the body;

and the
life everlasting. Amen.

On the back panel of the
bulletin you will find an abbreviated version of the Ten Commandments. The
commandments remind of three things at least. They remind us of our sin for we
have broken each of these commandments. They remind us of the perfection of
Christ’s life and sacrifice because he obeyed these commandments perfectly and
died under their penalty in our place. And He did so not only that we would be
forgiven, but so that we would be changed and enabled to walk with God in His
will. And so these commandments also remind us what the godly life of a walk
with Christ looks like. So let us repeat these Ten Commandments as we prepare to
come to the Lord’s table.

1. You
shall have no other gods before Me.

2. You
shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not worship them or serve them.

3. You
shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

5. Honor
your father and your mother.

6. You
shall not murder.

7. You
shall not commit adultery.

8. You
shall not steal.

9. You
shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10. You
shall not covet.

Derek Thomas]

On the night in which Jesus
was betrayed he took bread and having blessed it, he broke it, and said, “This
is my body which is for you. Take, eat. This do in remembrance of me.”

[Elements passed.]

Likewise, after supper Jesus
took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for many
for the remission of sins. Drink you all of it.

[Elements passed.]

Let us

Lord, it
cost the death and shed blood and humiliation, and shame of the Lord Jesus to
forgive us our sins, to make us presentable to You. There was no other good
enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gates of heaven and let
us in. He who thought it not robbery to be equal with god but made himself

But the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have their nests, but
the Son of Man has nowhere where to lay His head.

We thank
You for Gethsemane. We thank You for Calvary.
We thank You, O Lord, for a substitute, One who bore our sin and our shame in
His own body upon the tree.

We thank
You this morning afresh for the gospel, for grace that pardons all sin, that by
faith alone in Jesus Christ alone we may stand before You as adopted children
and heirs,

heirs with Jesus Christ.

Help us,
O Lord, as we go our various ways just now to rejoice and treasure the gospel
and treasure Christ. That’s where our hearts would be today–in love with Jesus.

Oh, that
we might love You more than we do. Have everything that there is of us. Take us
and use us and do with us as You will because whatever You do it will be for our
good. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

let’s sing together in your bulletin, The
Power of the Cross. O, to see the
of the darkest day”.


Now from
the God who promises to build His kingdom receive this blessing.

mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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