From Seed to Pearl
Matthew 13 records a number of parables spoken by the Lord Jesus. While each parable is complete in itself, when taken together they show us what is on God’s heart and how He will overcome the inevitable obstacles along the way. If we are willing to hear, these parables will grant us “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11).
God’s desire is for people to be regenerated by receiving the seed of life, as seen in the parable of the sower, and for them to be built up corporately as the church, as seen in the parable of the pearl of great value.
Between these two parables is a record of failure and decline, as seen in the parables of the tares, the mustard seed, and the leaven. Then God exercises His saving hand in the parable of the treasure hidden in the field.
According to the verses in Matthew 12 that lead up to these parables, the proper hearers are not the religious ones who wanted to see signs from the Lord (v. 38), nor the crowds (v. 46), nor those related to him in the flesh (vv. 47–48). If we want to hear and understand what the Lord is saying in these parables, we must be those who do “the will of My Father who is in heaven” (v. 50). We cannot come with religious preconceptions or with mixed motives, or be those who hear only what they want to hear, not what the Lord is really saying.
Matthew 13 begins, “That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. And He spoke many things to them in parables” (vv. 1–3). It would seem that Jesus was addressing the crowds with His teaching, but later when asked by His disciples why He taught using parables, Jesus answered, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted….I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Jesus was not speaking to the crowds. He was actually addressing a very small group who could see, hear, and understand, and who were granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. This is just as true with us. May the Lord have mercy that we could be counted in that number today.
The Mysteries of
the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus said that these parables unveiled “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11). He said the parable of the sower was “the word of the kingdom” (v. 19), and directly compared each of the other parables to the kingdom of the heavens (vv. 24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47). He referred to “the sons of the kingdom” (v. 38), “His kingdom” (v. 41), “the kingdom of their Father” (v. 43), and “the kingdom of heaven” (v. 52). This chapter deals directly with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, yet because they are mysteries spoken in parables, they are often missed.
A kingdom is where a king rules. The Lord said, “My kingdom is not of this world…My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36). His kingdom is heavenly and spiritual, and we who have believed into Him are His subjects. He rules us not outwardly through law, but inwardly as the Spirit of grace in our spirit (Gal. 6:18; Rom. 5:21). He rules us corporately not through some religious institution, but organically as His church, as fellow citizens in God’s household, and as members of the body of Christ (Eph. 2:19–22; Col. 1:24). Those who refuse to let Him rule like this will never be able to unlock the mysteries hidden in these parables.
Each parable is profound, with applications for us that are equally profound. We will take a quick overview here, and get into them in detail in the messages that follow.
The parable of the sower going out to sow illustrates both the regeneration of sinners to become citizens of the kingdom of the heavens, and the producing of the church as the realm of this kingdom. Without the Lord as the sower, and without local churches working together with Him to proclaim the gospel, there would be no way for people to enter into the heavenly church. If Peter had not stood with the other disciples on the day of Pentecost to boldly preach the gospel as recorded in Acts 2, or if there were no one as the good soil ready to receive the word he spoke, the church may have died right there. The seed is always good. It is the condition of our heart that makes a difference.
Of course this not only applies to our initial regeneration. The Lord continues to sow His word into us our entire life. On any day, we could find our heart has changed and we are a different kind of soil. Fortunately, there is always grace to confess and return.
The Wheat and Tares
The good seed always produces a good crop suitable for both God and man, represented in this parable as wheat. Because the church is composed of those who are not yet fully transformed, it is easy for unregenerate religious people to slip in unnoticed. These are the tares. They are not part of the kingdom of the heavens but they look like they are. It is very hard to tell the tares from the wheat.
But we who should be the genuine wheat still have our old tare-ish nature and are easily influenced by the tare-ish ones around us. This is why we are sometimes wheat-ish and sometimes tare-ish. The particular tares the Lord talked about here have a seductive drug-like quality. If we are not guarded, we will easily be drawn into the same worldly, religious, sinful things as the tares around us. We love the Lord and we love the world. We tell the Lord we will follow Him, then we do whatever seems good to us. We enjoy everything the Lord has given to us and at the same time refuse to give Him what He asks of us. We tell the Lord we love Him but do not take the time to tend His sheep (John 21:17). This is tare-ishness.
Contrary to what we may think, most Christians like the tares. Without them, they could never enjoy their tare-ish nature and do their tare-ish things, because they would be completely exposed. A tare-ish church life is a happy, comfortable church life.
The Mustard Seed
In this parable, the little mustard seed became a big tree. Most think how wonderful it is that the little church that started in Jerusalem could become the large institution that covers the entire earth. Even in our little local church, we long to become a large tree so we can sit under its shade. How enjoyable! But little do we realize that while we are enjoying the big tree church life, Satan is sitting in its branches, represented by the birds.
Under the shade of such a tree, our tare-ishness becomes acceptable. We can now bring our worldliness right into the church life. The things our conscience once only let us enjoy in private are now done openly. We no longer even know what it means to be spiritual or godly. We care only for numbers and will do whatever it takes to get them. Most of Christianity is like this.
Yet the most subtitle characteristic of such a big tree church life is empty spiritual talk which has no effect on anyone. No one is newly saved, no one is helped to grow, and no one is encouraged to consecrate to the Lord even though we are full of talk about each of these things. We can talk about Watchman Nee, recent conferences, and even the Bible, but no one is touched, and no one notices. Everyone just enjoys sitting under the shade of the tree, not bothered by the satanic birds nesting over their heads.
Eventually the leaven that started with the weakness of tares and which grew up with the big tree spreads to invade everything. The church life has now become institutionalized—under one control, in one system, and without God’s headship. The apostle Paul writes, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (Gal. 5:7–9).
The Treasure Hidden in the Field
The degradation is now complete. It may seem to us that everything is hopeless and that God should just give up. But He sees each local church as a field, and in each field is a treasure. Instead of removing the treasure, He leaves it where He found it and buys the entire field. The field is not the treasure, but the entire field gets blessed because of the treasure.
The church may be degraded, but some within the church remain faithful as overcomers. These few are treasures to the Lord. He will sell all that He has to purchase the entire church so as to maintain the church life environment needed for His treasure to grow. The Lord wants to gain them because they will eventually overcome the degraded situation. Thus these overcoming ones bring the Lord’s blessing to the church, and through the church the overcomers are brought to maturity.
If we try to be a treasure by ourselves not in a local church field, the Lord will not find us. He is looking in the field for His treasure. Yet the field can sometimes be so discouraging. We should fear our own tare-ish nature and our attraction to leaven. We should reject the comfortable big tree church life. Instead we should endeavor to be the treasure in the field of our local church. We should desire for God to pay attention to us as His treasure. We want to be the overcomers who work with Him and are one with Him so that He can be totally satisfied.
The Pearl of Great Value
In the 15th-century church, tares abounded, the mustard seed had become a huge tree as the Roman Catholic Church, and everything was fully leavened. Christendom was one big leavened lump. Then Luther appeared. He stood for the Lord’s interest and became the treasure in the field. The Lord worked with Luther, and eventually the whole situation was uplifted.
At that time, the field was not as clear as it is today. Now we know that the Lord desires to gain some treasure in every local church. He doesn’t look at the church; He looks at the treasure. When He works with the treasure, the whole field will be uplifted. If the whole field can be uplifted, eventually the churches will become the pearl. Within the pearl is the life of the seed. This is the history of the church.
This is our history also. I know a number of churches that went through a rough time not long ago, but because of a small number who stood strong, the whole church was rescued. Sometimes it only took one individual to save the situation. These are the treasures. They are hidden and unnoticed in the field, but become a blessing to the field. This will produce the pearl of great value that the Lord desires.
The seeds were sown into individuals and eventually grew through this long, negative process into a collective pearl. This is profound. God sold everything He had to gain this pearl, even sending His Son to die for it. Now He is seeking treasures who have buried themselves in the field, overcomers through whom the pearl will be realized. May we be such treasures.