This is the word of the Lord,
Matthew 13:34–35 ESV
34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
Matthew 13:44–46 ESV
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
We are in the process of understanding nature, characteristics, revelation, and the manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven. Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel account is reserved for this revelation, and here Jesus gives us this revelation in parables.
He spoke of his intention for why he chose to speak to them in parables:
Matthew 13:11 ESV
11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
These are selective revelations reserved for the saints and obscured from the unbelieving world. It is confusing for them but liberating for us.
We are given two parables here that are very simple to understand that you wonder what it could possibly obscure.
Matthew 13:44 ESV
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
- A treasure a man finds and covers it in the order it may not be stolen from him. He won’t lose it. In joy, he sells everything to buy that one thing.
Matthew 13:45–46 ESV
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
- A merchant on a search to find something of worth, of great value, and when he finds it, he too sells all he had to buy it.
Given in these two clearly understandable parables is the mightiest of revelations concealed, sadly even from many in the church today.
We’ve already covered several of the parables and have seen the nature and manifestation of this kingdom, of how God intends to build his kingdom on earth. But the parables we have before us now are those of worth or glory, not to reveal the how and what of the kingdom, but to reveal the why – why this kingdom is of great value to us.
Only the Holy Spirit can illumine your hearts with the power and glory beneath the flood of these parables.
Personally, I find sermons of this nature the most needed in our time and consequently, the hardest to preach. How can a man comprehend, let alone speak about the glories of heaven? Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, this is a futile endeavour.
Oh Lord, show yourself strong for your people! Open our minds to the glory of your kingdom, and let us not be the same! Do not leave us unchanged! Renew our minds and transform our hearts in the hearing of your word!
Matthew 13:34 ESV
34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable.
In keeping with his intention, Jesus did not speak anything to the crowds without a parable.
- This crowd that kept gathering around him were the people of his own hometown, people who were rejecting and questioning all of his actions. Legalists were bound up by the law in an unholy way and could not see the glory before their eyes for they subscribed to an ungodly and manmade adherence to the laws and the prophets.
They were a people like we see in:
2 Timothy 3:7 ESV
7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
They went so far as to accuse Jesus of being the prince of demons as a way to discredit his power in healing.
This crowd would not be given the privilege of hearing the truths about God’s kingdom. They who turned God’s revelation into a legalistic rod would be given the judgment of mystery – Jesus clouded the revelation of his kingdom in mystery using parables. He would not speak to them a thing without a parable.
Such is God’s intention with those who harden their hearts to his word and work. He clouds their judgment. Those who reject Christ scatter.
Hebrews 3:15–19 ESV
15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
And we are told at the end of the:
Matthew 13:58 ESV
58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
Matthew 13:35 ESV
35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
Matthew regards what is happening here as a fulfilment of Psalm 78. And herein we may find better reason or understanding for this parabolic nature of Jesus’ message on the kingdom. Perhaps it may give us a glimpse as to why the value of the message these parables conceal is of such great value.
This psalm is a “historic psalm” for it recounts events of history, of Israel’s disobedience & disbelief, and God’s perseverance. It is a long psalm and we do not have the time to go through its entirety, but I’d like to take sections of it and show you how Asaph recounts the story of God’s people in this poem.
Psalm 78:1–3 ESV
1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, 3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.
- The Psalmist beseeches his people to hear his words carefully. For though he hopes to recite to them the history of Israel, his prayer remains that the ears of his people would hear more than history.
The study of history does not require ‘careful’ attention, it just requires attention. But the call of Asaph here draws us to look for more than what is on the surface.
- I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
This lesson in history would be a parable. He calls it dark sayings from of old. This is a way of talking about mystery or riddles, or enigmatic sayings.
In other words, this introduction probes the hearer to unlock the mystery, or to plunge the depths of its otherwise direct historical discourse.
Spurgeon spoke of this saying, “I will utter dark sayings of old;—enigmas of antiquity, riddles of yore. The mind of the poet-prophet was so full of ancient lore that he poured it forth in a copious stream of the song, while beneath the gushing flood lay pearls and gems of spiritual truth, capable of enriching those who could dive into the depths and bring them up. The letter of this song is precious, but the inner sense is beyond all prices. Whereas the first verse called for attention, the second justifies the demand by hinting that the outer sense conceals an inner and hidden meaning, which only the thoughtful will be able to perceive.”
- things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. This knowledge was his inheritance, passed on to him from the generations that came before him.
And in the next verse, we find Asaph’s intention in writing this Psalm, a profound insight into how this man thought about his songs.
Psalm 78:4 ESV
4 We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
There is a generational intention behind the way the Israelites carried the message of their God. Sadly, this kind of thought is lost to so many of us who are drowned entirely in the present. In fact, this was not a man-made edict as we see in the section that follows.
Psalm 78:5–8 ESV
5 He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children,
6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
- It was God’s divine intention that his testimony and law be preserved and taught from generation to generation. It is a command of God that each generation is responsible for equipping the one that follows in order that the children yet unborn [may] arise and tell them to their children.
Beloved, what we do today matters not only for our congregants and our families but for families that will come from our families. Our people are not only those we see around us but also those who are to come from us. What we do today matters for generations to come.
As the kingdom of heaven rises from the earth like a mustard seed sprouting and growing into a tree, every generation teaches the foundation that has been laid and builds on top of that.
- This teaching helps generations set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
Therefore this parabolic song and these enigmatic sayings were meant to carry deep insights across generations. And it has now come to us in the 21st Century of the age of this world. What will we do with it? Will we read it in our morning devotions and forget it immediately with a swift amen, or will we sing this song to our children that they may sing it to theirs?
Psalm 78:9–11 ESV
9 The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle.
10 They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law.
11 They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.
- The Psalmist starts from Ephraimite’s failure in the conquest of Canaan, at the end of God’s promised deliverance of Israel from Egypt and bringing them to the promised land, and then traces his way from Moses through the entire journey in the wilderness that happened prior to that.
- However, it was not just the tribe of Ephraim that failed to keep God’s covenant. Judges 1 tells us that Manasseh, Zebulun, Asher and Naphthali were all guilty of the same.
- armed with the bow, they turned back on the day of battle – they refused to walk according to his law – they forgot his works and wonders.
It wasn’t a lack of strength or armour that prevented the tribes of Israel from conquering Canaan as the Lord had instructed them. It was disobedience. It was rebellion. It was a refusal that arose from forgetfulness of God’s mighty works and wonders.
This was the act of a generation poorly taught ancient lore of God’s glory. You see what they forgot was not the law. They knew the law and they chose to disobey that law. They rejected it. But what they forgot was the glory of God manifest – his works and his wonders.
How often are we ourselves satisfied in the surface of doctrine, oblivious to the glories underneath? How often do we ourselves conform to tradition and polity without drinking of the unsurpassable awe that flows from the river of its truth? How often do we find ‘proud Christians’ who are proud of all the wrong things? It does us no good to know the doctrines of God while being ignorant of his glory.
Then the Psalmist speaks of those glories.
Psalm 78:12–16 ESV
12 In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap.
14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light.
15 He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
- We are not to read these events as mere history but to see the power of God manifest.
The power of gravity and the laws of physics parted ways and the fluid dynamics of the river withdrew in silence, and for the first time, the waters stacked on top of each other till they formed a heap on either side to make way for God’s people to pass through it.
He raised a cloud as his chariot and he instructed it to lead the way for the people during the day and it did so against the wind. When every other cloud was tossed to and fro by every wind, this one stayed its course unhindered.
He rained a fiery light, a pillar of heat to guard them by night. An aberration so magnificent, like a tornado on fire, a deadly sight that was a great comfort to the Israelites.
From out of the dry rock where there was no water, he made rivers flow. The Lord cut a path for his people through the mountain and nothing could hinder him. He did not choose a path so as to avoid obstacles and dangers, he chose a path through them, and his hand was resolved to keep them.
- What is forgotten here, beloved? It is this God who has made our bodies his temple, where His Holy Spirit dwells. And now, we are forced to compromise on our Christian values because we’ve bought into the lie that God is not able. We give in to bribes saying there is no other way for us around it? We give in to depression because we cannot see hope. We keep silent in the face of injustice because we find ourselves too weak?
Let the glory of this God dawn upon you today.
The Psalmist then traces the disobedience and rebellion of Israel throughout their journey through the wilderness.
When they doubted his ability to provide them with food in a barren wilderness,
Psalm 78:20 ESV
20 He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?”
Psalm 78:23–29 ESV
23 Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven,
24 and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;
27 he rained meat on them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28 he let them fall in the midst of their camp, all around their dwellings.
29 And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.
- The grain of heaven rained down on them. This wasn’t a scientific phenomenon, it was a supernatural phenomenon. At his command food poured out of the heavens in abundance onto a barren land of hungry people.
- Man ate the bread of angels. Need I say more?
- We have heard that the wind blows where it pleases, but we were wrong. The wind blows where ‘he’ pleases. He led the wind and rained the meat like dust. Winged birds as many as the sand of the seas. These creatures were caught in a tide of wind that they could not escape when God cast a net made of wind in the skies and gathered all the birds and pulled them in for meat for his people.
In fact, he didn’t just let them fall but caused them to fall in the midst of the camp all around their dwelling.
- He provided not only their needs but also their cravings. And yet,
Psalm 78:22 ESV
22 because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power.
As the Psalmist continues to chronicle the disbelief and rebellion of the Israelites, he talks about God’s judgment on them for their continued rejection.
Psalm 78:34–37 ESV
34 When he killed them, they sought him; they repented and sought God earnestly.
35 They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.
36 But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues.
37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant.
- Even in their suffering, they knew that God was their redeemer but yet their heart was not faithful to his covenant.
And here we’re told,
Psalm 78:38–43 ESV
38 Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath.
39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.
40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert!
41 They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
42 They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe,
43 when he performed his signs in Egypt and his marvels in the fields of Zoan.
- They did not remember his power. Though they acknowledged his presence, held his law in their lips and submitted to the tradition and ordinances given to them, their hearts were not steadfast toward him. They did not recognise the God behind the miracles. They weren’t getting the bigger picture.
Forgetfulness was their greatest curse.
- But God, mighty in power, is also mighty in compassion. He atoned for their iniquity, restrained his wrath and did not destroy them. If the OT looks to some of you as the history of God’s wrath, it was not. It was a history of God’s wrath restrained.
Following the Psalmist’s writing, we see that the captivity of Israel under Egypt initially, and their later captivity to the pagan kingdoms around them by God’s judgment, were avenged. God not only preserved Israel but judged them, and then faithfully saved them, and destroyed the nations that he used to judge them.
Psalm 78:44–51 ESV
44 He turned their rivers to blood, so that they could not drink of their streams.
45 He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs, which destroyed them.
46 He gave their crops to the destroying locust and the fruit of their labor to the locust.
47 He destroyed their vines with hail and their sycamores with frost.
48 He gave over their cattle to the hail and their flocks to thunderbolts.
49 He let loose on them his burning anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels.
50 He made a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death, but gave their lives over to the plague.
51 He struck down every firstborn in Egypt, the firstfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham.
The parabolic poem of the Psalmist climaxes with David.
Psalm 78:67–72 ESV
67 He rejected the tent of Joseph; he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim,
68 but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves.
69 He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.
70 He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds;
71 from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance.
72 With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.
Brothers and sisters, there is a true and better Psalm that we can sing today as saints of the NT because our song does not culminate in David, but in the seed of David that came into this world, in Jesus Christ.
And in referencing parabolic Psalm 78, I believe Matthew is inviting us to see the story completed in the parables of Christ. The song that Asaph began to sing was not concluded in v72 but in Matthew 13 by Jesus Christ.
God took David from the sheepfolds where he was nursing lambs and brought him to shepherd Israel, and even David’s kingdom fell into ruins after him. God’s judgment followed Israel’s continued rebellion.
For as much as his power was manifest among them, their greatest enemy was not the pagan nations that surrounded them, but sin. Their greatest enemy was the serpent of old who tempted their minds with the cares of this world and led them down the path of forgetfulness. The devil deceived the nations.
So, God in fulfilling his promise to his people, sent his only begotten Son, not from the sheepfolds of Israel, but from the kingdom of heaven. He who walked among angels came to walk among his people. God himself came down to man, and where the King goes, his kingdom follows.
And he came to lead his people by saving them from the dominion of sin. He broke the curse of sin and of death. He came to die, to buy our freedom. He came to set us free to obey and love him. He came and instituted remembrance in his table, no longer forgetfulness.
Beloved, we are now free from the captivity of sin to follow the same God of Israel in all his glory. Given to us in his promises and his rule and his power is the glory of God manifest in the face of Jesus Christ.
This Jesus is the treasure of unfathomable value, the pearl of unsurpassable worth, and we who find Him, find his kingdom, and it is worth more than anything this world has to offer.