Heaven is a Place on Earth
First up, thanks for all your prayers, love and support these past few months whilst I’ve not been so well. Proverbs says ‘a friend loves at all times and a brother is born for a time of adversity’ (Proverbs 17:17). Without wanting to sound too soft, it has felt like the wise words and kind actions offered me came from folk sent and shaped by God for the job. Ta much to all concerned!
Our next series is called Heaven is a Place on Earth which is a belter of a song by Belinda Carlisle and though a great tune, especially for someone trapped in the 90’s like me, it’s not the main reason we’ve gone there. We’re looking at parables Jesus told about the Kingdom.
He talked a lot about the Kingdom, perhaps more than he talked about anything else. As Christians today, we talk a lot about the Church; what it is, what it does or doesn’t do, or should and shouldn’t do. But Jesus talked about the Kingdom; it was important to him, and important for him that people knew about it. And when he talked about the Kingdom, he used parables to explain what it was like.
Parables are stories; ‘Earthly stories with heavenly meanings’ is often offered up by church folk as an explanation for them. Stories; quite regular stories at that. Not lofty subject matter with highfalutin vocabulary but earthy, gritty, day-to-day stuff you say across the fence to your neighbour. Topics most covered include ingredients for cooking, farming and workers’ rights! Matthew says ‘Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable’ (Matt 13:34).
There were times Jesus only told stories to explain things; quite a thing when you think about it. If Jesus is God as he said he was, then His Kingdom is the glorious heavenly hope of God’s eternal rule and reign; this crumbling earth made new; His original purposes restored; a prospect that not only lies in front of us but that can be touched and experienced now. That (to use Jesus’ words) ‘comes near’ to us now; gives us heavenly peace now; eternal hope now; makes His people an essential light to the world now! The Kingdom of God, where everything that exists on earth is wonderfully heading towards, is explained by an over-the-fence story.
Why, if the Kingdom is so important, does Jesus just tell stories about it?
Well, we use stories to communicate all the time because it’s so effective. Supermarket Christmas adverts go to the trouble of scripting movie quality productions with animated heroes and villains just so we visit their stores and buy their turkeys. Why? Because stories get under our skin; we engage, empathise, remember and connect more.
Some stories move beyond the screen or the page we’re looking at, even beyond the wallets in our pockets, and move to affect our lives, shape our outlook and form our character. A personalised, well told documentary on plastic waste that ruins the life of someone living by a river in a distant land re-shapes a UK citizen into a conscious planet-loving person for the rest of their days. A carefully told rendition of The Boy Who Cried Wolf from a parent instils wisdom into a young mind. A good romantic movie rekindles the forgotten joy of love in a long married couple.
Jesus told stories so people would be moved to understand or consider the important stuff; His Kingdom. Jesus told stories to reshape lives; to bring people caught up in the everyday stupor of life to a point of conviction, of trust, of wisdom, of saving faith.
One day his disciples even asked why he told these stories.
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
“In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
“But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
— Matthew 13:11–17
In other words, for some people these stories will be pointless or unintelligible; for others they will become a key way to a more fulfilling life. You’re blessed when they’re revealed to you, blessed when you get them and blessed when these stories shape you!
Jesus’ stories… if you let them in, mean you’ll never look at an immigrant the same way again (parable of the good Samaritan); never think about your words the same way again (parable of the sower); never look at church the same way again (all of them); never think about how to fill your time the same way again (parable of the workers in the vineyard); never look at your money the same way again (story of the camel and the eye of a needle); never look at the future the same way again (parables of the pearl and the net).
The parables are well worth a hearing.
Catch up with our first talk online or join us for Live at 5 this Sunday, and the following weeks, for the rest of the series.
Ash, Pastor Christchurch Xscape