top of page

Heaven is a Kingdom Unlike Any Other

Everything Jesus Taught about Heaven

Week Four

David Collins

May 5, 2024


Matthew 13:24-33


Over the past few weeks, we've been looking at what Jesus really said and showed about heaven—things that might surprise us, challenge us, and hopefully inspire us.


For the first week, Megan tackled the often-misunderstood topic of hell. We explored how Jesus' teachings about hell challenge some of our preconceived notions and cultural depictions. It's not all fire and brimstone; rather, it’s about the consequences of our actions and choices.


Then we asked, ”Where is Heaven?" And don’t worry, I’m not going to sing again. We looked at how heaven isn't just some distant realm in the clouds; it's intertwined with our earthly existence more closely than we might have thought. Heaven, as Jesus taught it, is here and now, a part of our actions and interactions, as much as it is a future hope.


Last week, Megan delved into the final resurrection—what theologians call "life after life after death." We looked at the promise of the perfection of all things, which is not just about souls in bliss but bodies renewed, heaven and earth reunited…  a restored creation. It was a reminder that our faith has as much to do with this world as with the next.


Today we’re going to dig into a few of Jesus parables about heaven. But first we need to talk about the name Jesus consistently uses for it.


Heaven, you see, is a kingdom.


Heaven is a Kingdom


And who doesn’t love a good kingdom? We have a literal Magic Kingdom less than an hour away, if there’s not an accident on I-4. It’s a world where good always wins, the bad guys get their comeuppance, and everybody’s got a shot at a happy ending. Kingdoms as we imagine them, are shiny, happy places where dreams are just a wish away.


But if we step back into the real world, not so much. Real-life kingdoms are more like Game of Thrones, with even worse endings, and that’s saying something. History tells us about the darker sides of these kingdoms—conquests, battles, rulers whose scepters were more about power than fairness. Real kingdoms were more about hoarding wealth and silencing opposition, than singing mice.


What’s even worse is during the last few centuries, lots of Christians have read Jesus talking about the kingdom of heaven being among us, and taken him to mean that this kingdom is actually the Church, and by “the Church” they meant Western Civilization.


This interpretation has often led to a troubling legacy where the gospel message was intertwined with imperialism.


Imperialism

For instance, during the age of exploration and colonization, the Church often provided the moral and theological justification for the conquest and subjugation of indigenous peoples. European powers, believing they had a divine mandate, claimed lands and resources, imposing their culture and religion, by force.


In North America, the doctrine of Manifest Destiny was seen as a divine approval for westward expansion, which led to the displacement and near-annihilation of numerous Native American tribes. In Africa and Asia, colonial rule was enforced with a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other, sometimes literally. Churches blessed these endeavors, chaplains prayed over the armies, and missionaries followed in the wake of soldiers, ready to 'civilize' and convert, regardless of the cost to the cultures and religions that were steamrolled in the process.


This was a dark chapter in church history. One that I hope and pray we get to recover from. But there are still a lot of people out there who think it was great! That it was worth it! That we have nothing to apologize for. In part because they have a woefully deficient understanding of what Jesus really taught about heaven.


If you believe that this world is just a dress rehearsal for the next, and that it’s all going to burn, and that burning it all down might actually speed Jesus’ return up (and yes…there are a significant number of people out there who really do believe that. And they vote. Some of them vote in Congress!) then you see why what we’re talking about in this series really does matter!


When we read Jesus say that heaven is a kingdom, we need to be really precise about what that really means, because when we’re not, we’re leaving the door open for all the things…that are happening right now. “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it, and those who do study history are doomed to stand helplessly by while everyone else repeats it.”


So what does it really mean that heaven is a kingdom?


What sort of kingdom is it? Is it a magic kingdom? Is it a small world after all?


Or is it a battle between two kingdoms? Where the rightful king was been ousted, and it’s our job to win him back his throne? Or is it something completely different?m


Lucky for us, Jesus taught about it. But he taught about it sideways. He taught about it in parables. We’re going to look at three of them today that Matthew placed side by side in his 13th chapter. Let’s go through them one by one, but also keep in mind that they’re next to each other for a reason. The first one is traditionally known as the parable of the wheat and tares.


The Wheat and the Tares

Matthew 13:24 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.


27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28 He answered, “An enemy has done this.”


There’s actually a Roman law about this! Apparently it was such a problem that it made it all the way to the Roman senate.


The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29 But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.


Now, this is also my philosophy about lawn care. Who am I to say what should or shouldn’t grow on my property? But the master isn’t actually being as laissez-faire as me. There is a particular kind of weed that looks just like wheat in it’s early stages of growth. It’s called tares, or darnel or cockles (Lolium temulentum), and it’s a kind of ryegrass that they had in the ancient world.


30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’


This sorting is a part of what Megan taught on last week. A part of the final resurrection will be the final judgement. And I would be so excited about watching all the billionaires get judged, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m going to be judged too. Now I’m not worried, just a little embarrassed. I know that I’m forgiven because of Jesus, but still. If I promise to look away while you’re being judged, will you do the same for me? Deal.


That fishy agreement aside, which will no doubt be mentioned on that fateful day…notice here that the master doesn’t say, “Who am I to judge? Isn’t one plant as good as another? What matters is whether or not you’re sincere!”


No, the master explicitly says, Matthew 13:28, “An enemy has done this.” So the kingdom of heaven is not about live and let live, mealy-mouth, mumbo jumbo. The weeds are bad and will be gathered together and burned.


But just not yet.


Because the world is still in process. The kingdom of heaven is still growing. And the process matters more than the results.


Because the process, in this parable, teaches us something essential about how God is building this kingdom of heaven: with a patience and a perspective that transcends our often immediate desire for judgment. The master's approach isn’t about ignoring the problem of the weeds, but rather addressing it without harming the wheat. There’s a delicate balance between justice and mercy, acknowledging the reality and nature of evil with its tendrils in everything, while safeguarding the good and letting it grow, even if it can only grow in a compromised way.


You see, we’re not the master. We’re the wheat. And maybe the weeds. Our job isn’t to pull up other plants. Our job is to grow, and to trust that God sees us as we really are. The kingdom isn’t complete until we get to the harvest.


And really, this parable isn’t primarily about final perfection of all things… it’s about how we live here and now, in a world where good and evil coexist. How do we respond to the weeds among us? Do we respond with immediate judgment, and try to pull up those weeds, which oops…looks like our roots are intertwined. Or maybe we should try patience, and allow God to work through us and in us, knowing that God can see further and clearer than we ever will.


Jesus keeps on going with his parables. Let’s see what he says next.


A Mustard Seed/Tree

Matthew 13:31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’


No mention of the weeds here. Just a picture of what the kingdom looks like in the world. It starts out small, as small as small can be. But it grows! And when it does, it provides practical help for the tiniest of creatures. And look at who they are: the birds of the heavens. Here’s that union of heaven and earth again. This imagery isn't just poetic; it's theological.

The kingdom of heaven grows quietly, and so slowly you might not think it’s doing anything at all. It expands not by overpowering or overshadowing but by nurturing and providing.


The kingdom of heaven is a place of refuge, a sanctuary where all are welcome. It’s shelter from the storm and shade from the heat of the day. Think about all the meetings that have taken place under the shade of a tree… first kisses… quiet moments of solidarity…the humble beginnings of movements that grew to change the world.


By framing the kingdom as a mustard seed, Jesus challenges our expectations. He asks us to look beyond the grandiose and recognize the power of the small, the subtle, the seemingly insignificant. Just like a tiny seed can grow into a shady tree, so too can small, faithful actions create substantial changes. This is how we are called to be a part of the unfolding of the kingdom of heaven here on earth: planting seeds of peace, justice, and love, and nurturing them until they grow beyond what we could imagine.


But how do we do that? Let’s look at the next parable.


Yeast

Matthew 13:33 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’


We’ve moved from seeds to yeast. It would be easy to think that they’re pretty similar, right? You go to the store and buy a packet of seeds, or you go to a different store and buy a packet of yeast. But store bought yeast isn’t what Jesus was talking about. He was talking about sourdough. Scraps of dough. The name we have for that is perfect!


Starter.


Think about it: a starter begins small but given the right conditions, it expands, ferments, and transforms regular flour and water into delicious crusty bread.


This process isn't passive; it requires active engagement. You can’t just sprinkle starter over flour. You have to work it in, knead it thoroughly, make sure that the scraps of special dough  permeates every part of the new dough, until you can’t tell what was what before.


And there’s one other great detail about sourdough yeast. You have to use it or it will die. Especially back then. We can freeze it. Jesus couldn’t. Well, he probably could have, but still. If you don’t constantly knead that yeast into new flour that doesn’t have the yeast, it doesn't just stagnate; it eventually dies. It needs to be fed and incorporated into new batches of dough; it requires engagement and activity to remain alive and active.


Do you see how different this is from the idea of heaven as the sweet by and by, where nothing really matters any more? These parables…these are what Jesus said the kingdom of heaven was like.


It thrives through our active participation. If we don’t engage with and utilize the values of this kingdom—if we don’t "feed" them through our actions and decisions—they will stagnate and die, or we’ll find out that we were weeds all along.


Our faith, like the starter, is meant to be a living, breathing, and active part of our lives. It's designed to be spread and shared, not shelved. Living out the Kingdom of Heaven isn't an optional part of our spiritual lives—it's essential. And we do it by tearing off parts of what we have, of who we are, giving them away, and kneading them in everywhere we can.


We are called to live out the reality of Heaven in our everyday lives. Every small act of kindness, each word of truth, each gesture of love, contributes to the growth of something far greater than we can see. It’s tempting to want to focus on only the big bad things of the world, I know. It tempts me too. But Jesus had those too. And still, he directs us to these small, everyday acts.


Jesus lived in a world where the political climate was even worse than ours, where social injustices were rampant, and yet, much of his ministry was spent on personal, one-to-one interactions. He healed the sick, spoke with the outcast, and fed the hungry. Through these seemingly small actions, he demonstrated the Kingdom of Heaven. It wasn't just his miracles that left an impact; it was his compassion, his attentiveness, his readiness to pause and turn towards those in need.


Jesus calls us to do the same. To engage with the immediate, the tangible, the person right in front of us. This doesn't mean that we ignore the larger issues; but, we understand that the foundation of societal change begins with how we live, how we treat each other, and how we love those who know one else seems to love.


I know people say this all the time, but what if we all really did that?—how might our communities change? What if our workplaces, schools, and homes became places where the culture of Heaven—its peace, love, and justice—was tangible?

That’s what Jesus was talking about… creating pockets of grace and peace that expand and connect, that form a network of heaven, of heaven meeting earth.


I know it’s trite but it’s still true, that every act of kindness, every honest conversation, each moment of genuine empathy can start a ripple effect, creating waves of change that travel far beyond what we can see.


So go forward this week, holding onto the truth that our small, everyday acts of living in the kingdom of heaven are not just drops in the ocean. They are the very means by which God’s ocean of love and justice fills the earth. In those moments, we are not only following Jesus's example but actively participating in his work of bringing Heaven to Earth.

29 views

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page