The Five Freedoms (of Animal Welfare??)

What is your typical response to the question “What do you do?” If you’re like me, the first thing that usually comes out of your mouth is your job. I’m working on training myself to respond with something along the lines of being a worker in God’s Kingdom. I want God to use me in my job and in every other aspect of my life to bring glory to him.

It is with that job in mind that I write this article. God has blessed me with a great job as a poultry veterinarian, following in my dad’s footsteps. It’s an opportunity that has brought me to a wonderful place and put me in contact with a ton of terrific people.

Just the other day, I was doing some “celebratory destruction” of an enormous pile of notes that I used to study for my recent board certification exam. It was something that consumed about five months of my life, robbed me of time with my family and of sleep, and caused me an increasing amount of stress and anxiety as test day approached.

<Side note> God has always been faithful to me. One of my struggles is worry—even though I know worrying does more harm than good and is in fact contrary to my faith. I know that he takes care of the sparrows, so of course he takes care of me. I know he wants me to cast my anxieties on him. I know that I should bring everything to him in prayer. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

But God brought me through, as he always has! And so I was blessed to celebrate! I always did better with reading paper notes, so I’d often print my notes out instead of reading them on the computer. That left me with quite a bit of papers to dispose of…

Wanting to send these things off with a bang, I started off with a little target practice. The stack was probably 10-12 inches or so. 9mm bullets only penetrated about 4-5 inches, but 5.56mm rounds went clean through!

Then I took them to the fire pit. The stack was too thick to burn at once, so I was taking them bit by bit to burn them. As I did that, I was offering a prayer of thanksgiving. I was thanking God for his provision, for bringing me through this stressful time, and for allowing this chapter of school and studying to close.  I prayed that he would use my job for his Kingdom and for his purposes. As I prayed that, he showed me that he was there…

I had been just haphazardly grabbing pages and tossing them in the fire, but at this point I happened to glance down and read the page that was currently on top. It was notes on the five basic tenets of animal welfare, known specifically as the “Five Freedoms.” I don’t believe in coincidences. This was a wink from a loving Father. Let me go through the Five Freedoms and show you what I mean.

FREEDOM FROM HUNGER AND THIRST.

  • Jesus promised this! We will not be hungry or thirsty with him.
  • Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. – John 6:35
  • “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” – John 6:54-58
  • “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6

FREEDOM FROM DISCOMFORT.

  • No discomfort we face in this life is permanent. We are promised an eternal life perfected in Him.
  • So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
  • “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12
  • Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

FREEDOM FROM PAIN, INJURY, AND DISEASE.

  • Similarly, no pain will last. No injury or disease will persist.
  • When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. – Isaiah 43:2
  • He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces… – Isaiah 25:8
  • And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity. – Isaiah 33:24
  • Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. – 1 Corinthians 15:24-26
  • …In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality… – 1 Corinthians 15:50-58
  • He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4

FREEDOM TO EXPRESS NORMAL BEHAVIOR.

  • In God’s Kingdom, we are allowed to live as we were truly created to live—humans perfectly reflecting his divine image!
  • His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. – 2 Peter 1:3-4
  • From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

FREEDOM FROM FEAR AND DISTRESS.

  • What do we have to fear when the Lord is with us? Absolutely nothing. Not even death.
  • “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
  • …Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me… – Psalm 23
  • “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” – Matthew 10:28-31
  • “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
  • But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled… – 1 Peter 3:14

We have true freedom in Christ, eternal freedom. Come enjoy that freedom today!

A Kingdom of Mixture

Matthew 13 is a loaded chapter in the Gospels. It’s so full of rich parables that we often break them up into smaller pieces. That’s warranted and necessary at times, obviously. After all, the whole Bible is a unified story, but we can’t digest the fullness of the Bible in one sitting. However, if we only ever feed on disjointed fragments, and never bring those pieces together into a full picture, we end up not being able to see the forest for the trees. So, we’ll try to take a section of the trees in Matthew’s gospel and see what that part of the forest looks like.

First some ground rules: Read Matthew 13:1-52 before this article. Read it a few times. Then remember—context, context, context. Any study of the Bible requires an understanding of context. This involves understanding what all is being spoken as one continuous narrative, but also how that narrative fits into the greater story and the historical and cultural factors that influence the speakers/hearers. This will be a lengthy article, but to break it into sections would go against this very point! (Hah)

A general overview of Matthew 13’s context: Jesus is speaking to a crowd initially, but there are also places where he is teaching only his closest disciples. Jesus understands the dynamics of a crowd. You’ll always have a mixed audience. Some will be enthralled by the message, some will be indifferent, some will be enraged, and some aren’t even listening. A striking example of this is in John 6—right after Jesus feeds the five thousand, the crowd is offended by His claim that he is the true bread of life, and many turned away from him. Perhaps they were like the crowd in John 2:23-25, who really only followed Jesus to catch a glimpse of an exciting miracle. The crowd that gathers in Matthew 13 isn’t any different. With that in mind, and with the goal that we want to look at a full “episode” of teaching from Jesus instead of disjointed fragments, let’s examine a continuous episode from Matthew 13:1-52.

The Sower (Matthew 13:1-23)

This is one of the few parables in this section that Jesus provides an interpretation for. There is one sower (Christ), one seed (“the word of the kingdom”), and four different soils that the seed lands on. Only one of those four is soil that actually allows the seed to produce fruit. When the disciples ask Jesus privately to explain this parable, he confirms that not everyone who hears a message actually “hears” the message (“…seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Matthew 13:13). Let’s look at the mixture of different soil types that Jesus describes.

1) First there’s the path. The seed that is sown here is eaten up by the birds, who Jesus equates with the evil one. Ground that is trampled into a path is firm and compacted. It has been shaped over a long time and is not easily molded. We can easily see the metaphor for a hard heart and a stubborn mind. That seed isn’t sinking in, and it’s not going to germinate. If we reject the seed because of our hard hearts, it’s easy pickings for the enemy.

2) Then there’s the rocky ground. There’s more opportunity for the seed to get buried here—in fact, there may be a perfect crevice that the seed could fit through, receive some moisture, and germinate. Jesus said this is like people who eagerly receive a teaching, but they have no root. As soon as difficulty comes, that plant withers away. This is reminiscent of the John 6 example mentioned earlier.

3) The soil with thorns will allow that seed to grow for a time, but then the thorns, which represent “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches,” choke the life out of the plant so that no fruit is born.

4) The good soil is one who hears the word, understands it, lets it take root, and allows God to produce fruit.

The “word of the kingdom” is sown over a mixture of soil types and is taken up (or not) at varying degrees. The types of soil may represent the mixture of different individuals overall, but also, we may display a mix of all these soil types throughout our own lives. Maybe we have thorns we need to remove. What cares of the world are preventing you from bearing fruit for the Kingdom? Worrying about things that might happen or about things outside of your control? That anxiety is choking out the truth of God’s word. Even worry about good things! Parents, are you constantly worried about your children? Is that consuming your heart? (I know some of you need to hear that—anxiety is something I’m working on pulling out of my own soil…) Maybe we need a tiller to break up the ground of our own heart. What or who are you hardened toward? Maybe some rocks need to get thrown out. What area of your life is suffering from an inability to receive God’s word? May your heart become increasingly good soil as you walk with Christ and bear much fruit!

As we go through the rest of this narrative, keep this initial teaching in mind: There’s mixture in the kingdom of God. It will be purified in the end, but right now we deal with the good and the bad. It’s not a utopia—not yet. It seems strange to consider God’s Kingdom as something that contains flaws, doesn’t it? But even if we discount those that actively look to sabotage the Kingdom from within, we know that none of us are perfect. John Nugent puts it well in his book, Endangered Gospel: “God’s treasure was meant to be carried in clay jars (2 Corinthians 4:7). The weakness of the messenger does not negate the strength of the message. The reality is, there can be no such thing as a perfect church. A church that fulfills its responsibility attracts new people. When new people come, they bring all of their imperfections with them. So the church is constantly in the process of helping imperfect people who do not yet seek first God’s kingdom to begin seeking it first.”

Jesus continues this theme in the following short parables. Reading them within that context sheds a lot more light on what he was getting at.

The Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30,34-43)

In the parable of the weeds, Jesus shifts the image from one good type of seed falling on a mix of different soil types to a mixture of seeds being sown in a field: one for wheat and one for weeds (or tares). The servants are confused—why are their weeds in our perfectly sown field of wheat? Why is there a mixture of good and bad, fruitful and non-fruitful? Should we go ahead and try to clean out the bad? The master tells them an enemy has sown the weeds, but they must wait until the time of the harvest or else when gathering the weeds, they would root up the wheat as well.

Jesus privately explains the meaning of this parable to his disciples as he did with the parable of the sower. The Son of Man is the one who sows the good seed, the field is the “world,” the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. Seems pretty straight forward, but consider that the weeds are growing right alongside of the wheat. They aren’t subdivided in any way. Jesus explains that at the end of the age the angels “will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers and throw them into the fiery furnace.” What do we do with this? There are weeds in God’s Kingdom?

(Wheat, left. Walther Otto Müller, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Darnel, right. Winkler, Eduard., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Darnel is the type of weed that Jesus would have been referencing. As you can see in the image, it looks very similar to the wheat!

We must realize that we’re all weeds without Jesus. It’s his life within us that has transformed us from weeds to wheat. He didn’t make us wheat just so we can point out those who we think are not wheat. We should be people that are willing to live as wheat among weeds, with the hope that our witness to the one who transformed us would impact those around us.

What about the teachings we have on church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5, for instance)? Isn’t that “identifying a weed?” I pondered on this question a lot and sought some insight from several folks I trust. To quote John Nugent: “He has not appointed his followers to be kingdom police checking out everyone else’s kingdom work. We should focus on what God has given us to do. We should not be going around looking for weeds. We should be sowing the seeds of God’s word. It’s a matter of focus.”

Certainly, if someone is leading the flock away from the truth, we should intervene, just as we should if we see a brother or sister walking away from Christ. But, as John Nugent continued, “We are not really in the business of driving people out who don’t quite get it right. We need to be patient, give God time to work on people, and trust him to judge when his time is right.”

And to that point, we should reference what Jesus says at the end of the Matthew 18:15-20 passage. He is with us if a decision of expulsion must be made. He is taking the lead. We must be sure that we always surrender the reins to him.

And so, I believe part of Jesus’ emphasis here is simply that we need to set realistic expectations, not that we need to be looking for weeds on an individual basis, trying to root them all up. The quote from Endangered Gospel above is again pertinent.

The enemy wants to sabotage the King’s field. We know that he ultimately won’t be successful, but we still have to deal with his attempts. That involves weeds masquerading as wheat. Many of the letters in the New Testament warn us of this threat. In Acts 20:29-31, Paul warns the Ephesian elders of fierce wolves that will be present within their own number. So as a general principle, this comes as no surprise. What was surprising to me is that those people are, for now, considered to be part of God’s Kingdom. But then I remember, even Jesus had a Judas in his inner circle!

In Gerhard Lohfink’s book, The Forty Parables of Jesus, he says: “Jesus’ preaching and practice did not correspond to [a] model of a holy, self-separating community…Above all, the Jesus movement was made up of despised people, social outcasts, and sinners. So, Jesus gathered, but he did not segregate…Jesus would certainly not have equated the sinners with whom he associated with poisonous weeds. The point of comparison would have been the association of holy and unholy, good and evil. Now, at this hour, a clear and clean distinction cannot be drawn. In fact, Jesus said elsewhere, we have to suppose that the real wickedness does not lurk among the sinners but is at home with those who elevate themselves above the outcasts and the sinful.”

Ouch! Have I acted like the Pharisee who despised the tax collector (Luke 18:10-14)? Our efforts are not to be directed at identifying and uprooting those we see as weeds. We live in him and by him, we grow, and we bear fruit. Just as he is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:1-11), so too is he the soil and we are the fruit from it.

The Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32)

Who hasn’t heard this parable? It’s often presented as a picture of the gospel growing from a tiny seed into a huge tree—it seems small and insignificant from the start, but it will become a great kingdom. To be clear, God’s Kingdom will certainly overcome all and is the everlasting kingdom! I fully affirm this fact. I just don’t believe that’s the point of this parable. If we look at this story without extracting it from its context, we’ll come away with a different interpretation.

First, what is this mustard seed that Jesus is referencing? There is no consensus among scholars. One common herb grown in that region was Black Mustard (Rhamphospermum nigrum), which has been said to grow up to ten feet tall. Typical growth, however, is only about three feet tall with a thin and wispy branching pattern. Since Jesus seems to be talking about a garden and that was a popular spice, I’m inclined to think this was the plant in mind, but I can’t say for certain. Another possibility is Nicotiana glauca, which is a woody plant (more of a shrub or small tree). If we go too far down this rabbit trail though, I think we’ll miss the point.

(Black Mustard, Rhamphospermum nigrum. Katrin Schneider, korina.info – CC-BY-SA-4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

While growth rate is a point of emphasis for sure, I believe the emphasis is actually an abnormal growth rate. Black Mustard can grow rapidly, but for it to grow into a “tree” that birds could nest in would paint a picture of something highly unusual, especially in someone’s garden as Luke records it (Luke 13:18-19). This abnormal growth might even be looked as deviant, as the plant overshadows the rest of the garden. When we read all of Matthew 13, there is a lot of undeniable negativity—3 out of the 4 soils are bad, the weeds are bad, the net has a lot of bad fish, leaven is always bad (contrary to popular belief in this chapter). Jesus isn’t speaking in a bunch of disjointed short stories—he’s painting a consistent picture. There’s something about the Kingdom that he wanted his disciples (and us) to understand. He’s warning us that in this “already but not yet” period of the Kingdom, it’s not going to be perfect. There will be bad soil in the ground, there will be weeds in the field, and we may see some “mutant growth.” Doesn’t world history illustrate this perfectly when Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire? When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, suddenly becoming a Christian was a politically advantageous position. “Nesting” in this puffed-up “tree” of the Kingdom becomes a comfortable spot for the corrupt rulers of the day. And that leads us to the birds…

The nesting birds are a clear picture of corruption. Remember what the birds were an example of in the first parable. In fact, birds very often are used as symbols of the evil one or something unclean, so Jesus’ analogy is hardly a new thing. See Genesis 15:11-16 where birds of prey represent an evil omen of Israel’s future bondage in Egypt (which is cross referenced in Deuteronomy 28:26 and Jeremiah 7:33). Also, in Genesis 40:16-19, Joseph interprets the chief baker’s dream to mean that Pharoah will behead him, and the birds will eat his flesh! Hardly desirable images. This is certainly not to say that there are not positive usages of birds (the Holy Spirit is represented as a dove, for instance), but it is important that we interpret passages in their immediate and wider contexts. It bears repeating: Jesus is in mid-stride with a consistent teaching here. He has already defined the birds (Matthew 13:19). He has also already clearly established in this same conversation the idea of a mixture of good and bad together. Since we don’t have a side-bar explanation of this parable like we do the soils, the wheat and weeds, and the net (as we’ll see), it behooves us to base our interpretation of this parable alongside the others. The birds are like the weeds—making their home in and amongst the true kingdom citizens. And this home is made even more hospitable due to some abnormal growth.

Sometimes a lack of direct explanation is frustrating. Why can’t it just be laid out in black and white? Jesus’ first disciples wondered the same. But we know that Jesus wanted his message to reach only those who were truly seeking. All the disciples ever had to do was ask Jesus what he meant, as they did many times. Those who don’t have ears to hear or eyes to see won’t ask. They won’t seek. They won’t knock. (Matthew 7:7-11) Jesus is an artist. His metaphors and comparisons paint incredibly rich portraits for those who look on them intently. And the more we seek, the more we see! (Matthew 13:12).

When this parable is examined on its own (as is often the case), it’s easy to extract another meaning altogether. But that’s precisely the point: We were never supposed to lift these tiny fragments out of their place in the story. I believe this part of Matthew’s gospel is a notable example of the pitfalls of that study method. And another perfect example of that comes in the next verse…

The Leaven (Matthew 13:33)

We’ve all heard this verse in isolation. It’s commonly cited as a way to say that the gospel will slowly spread throughout the earth until everyone comes to the King. I wholeheartedly believe that one day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11), and the Kingdom will one day be the only kingdom left standing. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus was talking about here. Not only does that idea not fit the flow of the narrative, but it completely ignores the consistent symbolism of leaven in all of Scripture.

Part of the context we always have to keep in mind is the audience Jesus is speaking to and their cultural background. The Jews listening are all too familiar with the symbolism of leaven—they’ve heard the story of the Exodus every year for their entire lives, and they’re quite familiar with the sacrificial system. Let’s start with Exodus to get more of that context.

The Israelites have been in bondage in Egypt for 400 years. God has raised up Moses for the mission of bringing them out of Egypt and into the promised land. Pharoah has not responded to the plagues, as God knew he wouldn’t. The warning of the final plague has gone out. The Lord will strike down every first born in the land unless the blood of a spotless lamb marks the doorway of the house. But first, some preparation! (See Exodus 12 for all the details.) For seven days, they were to only eat unleavened bread. Not only that, but they also had to get every speck of leaven out of their houses. And if they failed to do that, they would be cut off from Israel! (Exodus 12:14-15)

That sounds awfully harsh, doesn’t it? But look at the great mercy that God shows when the Israelites leave Egypt. It wasn’t just the Israelites who left. A “mixed multitude” left with them (Exodus 12:38)! God had an open-door policy to join in with his people. He even provided an avenue (circumcision) for that mixed multitude to officially become part of his people, to be as a native Israelite (to be “wheat,” if you will). If they didn’t want to be circumcised, God was merciful to still allow them to be with the people as a “stranger who sojourns among you” (Exodus 12:48-49). What an awesome and merciful God. Raise your hand if this is the first time you heard about a “mixture” leaving Egypt with the Israelites…

And certainly, Israel’s history is full of examples of “outsiders” that became great blessings—two perfect examples being Rahab and Ruth, who are even in the genealogy of Jesus! But we can’t ignore the problems that would come about because of this mixture either. For example, a son of an Israelite and an Egyptian blasphemed the Name. A decree was given that whether a native or a sojourner, blaspheming the Name would result in death (Leviticus 24:10-12). Also, the “rabble” (as the mixed multitude was called) had a strong craving for meat while they wandered in the desert. This influenced even the native Israelites to complain to God about the manna he provided. God, in his mercy, provided quail. But because of their lustful desire, they gorged themselves on God’s gift and he punished them severely. There are many more examples, both good and bad, of the results of mixture in the nation of Israel. It was most definitely a foreshadowing. And Jesus didn’t want his disciples to forget that just because he was inaugurating the new kingdom, a mixture was still going to be present.

(www.yourbestdigs.com/reviews/best-bread-machine/, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Why leaven? Why was that such an important symbol?

For one, the unleavened bread serves as a practical reminder of their rescue from Egypt. They had to leave in haste. They had no time to allow their bread to rise. They had to escape!

We know what the spotless lamb represents—it’s a picture of the blood of Christ. A gift that washes us, cleanses us, and makes us holy (Colossians 1:22). And because that blood represented a cleansing and allowed the Lord to “pass over” their house, they had to actually cleanse the impurity out of the house. Leaven represented that impurity. God was making Israel into his holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). They are leaving behind their old life and being consecrated to God in a new life. This is a “new creation” story. They are starting fresh. Paul makes this same connection in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. The word translated as “sincerity” there in vs. 8 is the Greek word for purity.

Jesus himself compares the bread of the Passover meal to his own body—the purity of the unleavened bread is matched with the purity of the body of Christ (Luke 22:19).

The Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost, also involves leaven—but this time Israel is told to present leavened loaves to God. So, it must represent something good and pleasing here, right? Nope. They are to present these loaves to God as a “wave offering,” and then seven spotless lambs, one bull, and two rams as a burnt offering. The leavened bread actually represents their own sin as a nation, while the burnt offerings represent the atonement for those sins. (Leviticus 23:15-18)

Leviticus 7:12-14 discusses more offerings of bread. First mentioned here is the peace offering. It is an offering of unleavened bread, and it’s a foreshadowing of the peace that Christ is to us, who through his perfect sacrifice reconciles to God (Ephesians 2:13-18). The second is the thanksgiving offering which involved leavened bread. Similar to the offering at the Feast of Weeks, this offering is one of thanksgiving that God has offered this peace to even impure beings. These leavened loaves are not burned (Exodus 23:18, Leviticus 2:11); they are actually given to the priest for food.

Again, we’re talking about the symbol of leaven, not leaven itself. Clearly the Israelites used leaven in their everyday lives to bake bread. In Matthew 16:6-12, Jesus even has to clarify that he’s speaking symbolically of leaven when he tells his disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They start looking around for literal bread to get rid of, completely forgetting that Jesus just did two huge miracles with leavened loaves of bread.

In addition to Matthew 16 and 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, other New Testament passages also carry forward the allegorical use of leaven for evil or sin (see Luke 12:1, Mark 8:15, Galatians 5:9). Paul uses the phrase “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” That’s not an original line from Paul—he took it straight from Jesus’ teaching here! “Purging the leaven” from the body of believers is also a direct reference to the Israelites purging the leaven from their houses during the Passover.

Jesus isn’t pulling a fast one on his listeners. He isn’t trying to get them to see leaven in a new light. He’s trying to get them to see the Kingdom in a new light! It’s precisely because of their understanding of the symbol of leaven that makes this a mind-bending exercise. Just as his other parables in this section are paradoxical, this one is no different. Yes, there are weeds in the kingdom and there is leaven in the kingdom…for now.

“But,” some might ask, “didn’t Jesus say the Kingdom of Heaven Is like leaven? If leaven is bad, how could God’s Kingdom be bad?” Let’s say, for instance, that leaven is equivalent to false teaching (which is what it was compared to in Matthew 16:5-12). Jesus isn’t saying the Kingdom of Heaven is like false teaching, but rather that there will be false teaching within the kingdom. The many warnings in the New Testament letters attest to that fact.

This sure is a long discussion for just one verse! Jesus is quite the artist—his words are rich, and those riches are inexhaustible (Ephesians 3:8)! As such, we have a few more items to mention for this parable:

Jesus says the woman hid this leaven in the flour. This has the connotation of a subversive act. The Greek word used in Matthew, enkryptō, can mean simply to “put in.” However, in Luke’s account of this parable (Luke 13:20-21), the Greek word more specifically means to “conceal” or “keep a secret.”

The mention of “three measures of flour” would have also brought to their minds the fellowship offering in Genesis 18:1-15 (see vs. 6 for the same measure of flour!). That wasn’t just some random coincidence. And that much dough makes way more bread than anyone would make on a typical day. No, Jesus is purposefully leading his hearers to this story. For Jesus’ Jewish audience, adding leaven to the fellowship offering, a meal with God and his angels, would have brought horror! This was a clear act of sabotage. It’s interesting too that Sarah is a point of focus here in Genesis—her lack of faith in God’s promise and her flippant attitude. Who did Abraham ask to make the “cakes” (unleavened, round, flat loaves)? Who did Jesus say hid the leaven in the flour? Sarah’s laughter, which she tried to hide from God, is the woman’s leaven, hidden in the dough. Whoa!

One other item of note that I make no conclusions about here but will mention out of sheer curiosity—there are seven kingdom parables in this teaching of Jesus. There are seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3. This parable of the leaven is the fourth parable told. The fourth letter to the church in Thyatira is about a woman (Jezebel) who sabotaged the church there by concealing false teaching under the guise of prophecy. In fact, there may be some interesting correlations with all the letters to the churches and these kingdom parables. I leave that to you to investigate!

The Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44)

The next parable of mixture Jesus presents is the treasure hidden in the field. The treasure is buried, covered by dirt and impurities. The man doesn’t just buy the treasure itself—he buys the whole field that contains the treasure. Going back to the wheat and the weeds, that field contained the true treasure (the wheat), but the master owns the whole field, weeds and all. At the proper time, the treasure will be taken up out of the field and enjoyed in its pure state.

There are two different perspectives we can examine this parable from:

Imagine the man in this parable represents Jesus. When he gave “all that he has” on the cross, he gave it all for the whole world (Philippians 2:5-11). He bought and redeemed the whole world (John 12:44-50), even dying for those who nailed him to the cross. But there is something incredibly special to him in this world—his bride, his church, his body. He gives us all an opportunity to be a part of that treasure.

Now imagine that you are the man. You’ve come upon that treasure that is God’s Kingdom. This is a free gift from God, but it comes at a great cost. We know what it cost Jesus. Just as it cost him his life, it should cost us ours as well! If we truly value this treasure, it’s not a difficult decision to give up everything else. Trading earthly treasure for heavenly treasure is an easy choice if we understand the true value (Matthew 6:19-21). Mike Breen in Building a Discipling Culture uses the parable of the dishonest manager (Luke 16:1-13) and the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30) to discuss “spiritual capital” versus “financial capital.” We can only serve one of these two masters, and we will ultimately choose the one we assign the highest value. We know which one the rich young ruler valued most—he went away sorrowfully when Jesus confronted him with the truth in his heart. The disciples retort that they’ve given up their homes and lives to follow him. Jesus affirms their choice, saying that indeed they’ll receive so much more by laying aside the treasures of earth (Luke 18:28-30).

And this is one way that the “rabble” in the field will identify themselves in the end—they won’t forsake all to take hold of the treasure. They won’t buy the field. And in that choice, they will be weeded out of the Kingdom.

Have ears to hear! Ask deeper questions. Seek the treasure and you’ll find it. (Proverbs 2:1-5)

The Pearl of Great Value (Matthew 13:45-46)

This parable is similar to the treasure hidden in the field. Again, the merchant can represent Jesus or us.

Jesus gave it all for the pearl—his bride, his church, his body. This is the most precious jewel in Jesus’ eyes. He gave up even his equal position with God to obtain this jewel (Philippians 2:6-7).

Likewise, when we see the value of this pearl, it’s not a hardship to give everything else up for it. We value it most of all.

There seems to be many pearls in view here, but only one in that mix is the precious pearl of the merchant’s eyes. At first glance to the unsuspecting person, they might just see a collection of common pearls (like the weeds might look like wheat at first glance), but when we have eyes to see, the one pearl of great value comes into focus, and it is the only thing worth having.

(Muséum de Toulouse, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s also worth noting that an oyster is actually considered unclean by Jewish law (Leviticus 11:10-12). This precious jewel is enclosed in something unclean. Jesus is making something clean inside the unclean. There’s a purification going on in this mixture.

The actual process the oyster undergoes to create the pearl deserves a closer look. A contaminant (like a grain of sand) infiltrates the oyster’s shell. It endures this adversity by excreting a substance called nacre, coating the grain of sand with layer after layer of this beautiful component. The result is a precious pearl, the redemption of the suffering the oyster endured. Without Christ covering us and making us pure, we would be nothing more than that contaminant.

Again, the rabble won’t endure the hardship to create the pearl. They also won’t pay the cost to buy the pearl.

Frank Viola, in The Insurgence Podcast (episode #110) said: “We know we value something if we are willing to sacrifice for it.” Amen!

The Net (Matthew 13:47-50)

Jesus comes full circle with this last parable here, and again this time, like the wheat and the weeds, he offers an interpretation and highlights his teaching of the current mixture in the kingdom that will be sorted out in the end.

The sea of Galilee was full of all kinds of fish, but only a few species were edible. When fishermen lowered their net and dragged it through the water, they caught all the fish indiscriminately. It wasn’t until the nets were drawn onto the shore that the fish were sorted.

Jesus gives the interpretation: there are evil among the righteous. They’re together for now—in the same ground, in the same fields, in the same garden, in the same loaf of bread, in the same market, in the same net. At the proper time, He will do the sorting.

(Mehr News Agency, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Conclusion

We think of God’s Kingdom, and we think of perfection. And it will be so! But now we are still in the refining stage. And we thank God for his mercy! If we had to come to the Kingdom already refined, I’d be on the outside myself.

Jesus has invited all to his feast. In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus compares the Kingdom to a king giving a wedding feast. When those who were invited first refused to come, the king tells his servants to extend the invitation to “as many as you find.” And so, the servants went out, gathering “all whom they found, both bad and good.” Both bad and good! But when the feast commenced, the king sorted through the guests. When the king determined a guest to be unworthy, he was cast out. Many are called, many are invited, but only a small number are chosen in the end (Matthew 22:14). The way is narrow, and few find it (Matthew 7:14).

Again, Jesus compares the Kingdom to ten virgins who took their lamps to meet the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13). Five of those virgins were foolish, five were wise. When the bridegroom came, the foolish missed his arrival because they didn’t have oil for their lamps. The bridegroom shut them out of the feast.

In The Insurgence Podcast (Episode #111), Jeffrey Harley brings out an interesting note from T. Austin-Sparks: Even Cain and Abel represent this mixture. They both acknowledged God and offered sacrifices to him. But when faced with the ultimate choice of following God or his own desires, Cain chose the latter (Genesis 4).

Don’t misunderstand—there is another kingdom that is totally outside God’s Kingdom. There are many fields of all kinds of other weeds, if you will, that are not included in this mixture. Afterall, Jesus said as he was handed over to be crucified: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36) Satan is referred to as the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). Satan has his own claim on this earth right now, but God has already won the victory. He is reclaiming the earth for himself, and we get to play a part in that! (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21) Satan’s rule and reign is on borrowed time. He and all who pledge allegiance to that world order will be destroyed in the end (1 Corinthians 15:24). The weeds in God’s Kingdom will also join them (Matthew 13:40-42).

So, we know we have enemies outside, but we must be aware that there are weeds within too. Rome wasn’t in Jesus’ inner circle, but Judas certainly was. We pray for refinement of those weeds, and we praise God for the refinement that he is currently offering to us. We shouldn’t be worried about pointing out the weeds in the field because we are all still in the process of refinement ourselves! If you are part of his body, you are at present being transformed, your mind is being renewed (Romans 12:2). Let us not focus on putting magnifying glasses on others in the kingdom, but rather let us continually examine ourselves. Do I have ears to hear and eyes to see? Am I keeping my heart open to his truths? May my soil never be so hard that his seeds cannot penetrate the surface.

Don’t label the soils of others, just sow the seed. Don’t try to pluck out the weeds, just be the wheat that produces the fruit. Don’t try to identify the fish, just be the good fish.

After Jesus tells these seven parables, Jesus asks the disciples if they understood. They claim to have grasped it—who’s to say if that was actually true at the moment. But Jesus explains that they are being trained to take what they have known and what is being revealed to them now. They are being specially prepared to paint the complete portrait of God’s Kingdom that until that time had been shrouded in mystery.

And even following this episode, the disciples get to see play out exactly what Jesus was teaching. That mixture in the kingdom is present even in Jesus’ hometown (Matthew 13:53-58). The Jews in Nazareth didn’t want to believe in him because they thought they already understood who he was. They were wise in their own eyes. They only treasured what was old and their current understanding and had no openness to what was new.

I sincerely hope this deep dive into the parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13 was valuable to you. This subject has been marinating in me for a while—many conversations over breakfast with a dear brother, bouncing thoughts off my wife, in-depth studies with friends, listening to podcasts, reading articles, and having many brothers and sisters critique my notes. Much of it is still marinating now, but I had to go ahead and compile what I had, if for no other reason than for my own study down the road. I encourage you to do your own deep dive! Find another set of parables and dig in. Parables are meant to go well beyond the superficial. After all, Jesus used the parables to mask the message from those who were “wise in their own eyes” (Matthew 13:13, Isaiah 5:21) His kingdom truths are hidden from the wise but revealed to the children (Matthew 11:25-26, Matthew 13:16-17). It’s the great mystery that Paul speaks of (Ephesians 3:4-13, Colossians 1:26-27). Explore the mystery. The riches are inexhaustible!

I also encourage you to check out these awesome resources for further study into God’s Kingdom. A lot of the material in this article can be credited to these guys:

America is Transitioning. So What?

We all have certain passages that we keep coming back to. The passages that stick in our brain that we just can’t help mulling over. Foundational passages. For me, one of those passages is from Daniel chapter 2. The chapter tells how King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream where he saw a massive statue with a head of gold, arms of silver, a body of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of a mix of iron and clay. King Nebuchadnezzar sees a giant rock hit the statue and it comes crumbling down. Daniel, as it turns out, is the only one who can interpret the dream for him, and Daniel goes on to tell the king how his empire is the empire of gold, and after his will be successive empires until it all crumbles down.

The United States was NOT founded as a Christian nation. Most of the founding fathers were deists, meaning they pictured God as a sort of clockmaker, who once he wound the clock never touched it. Thomas Jefferson edited out all the miracles in his Bible, turning it into basically a book of wise sayings. One of the articles in the 1798 Treaty of Tripoli, which ended the war the American Navy had been fighting against Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean, said:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of [Muslims]; and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Fast-forward 150 years and the United States was no longer at war with Muslim Pirates, but Communist Soviet Union. Without getting into the ins and outs of Communist theory, Communist Russia was staunchly atheist. Because the United States was fighting the Soviets in a Cold War as opposed to a “hot” war, it was fought with things like culture, economics, and religion; not tanks and guns (in political theory this is called soft power over hard power). This meant that the United States had to portray itself as the exact opposite from the Soviets, religion included. The Soviets were the godless horde, so the United States had to be Christian. For the first time ever, the President instituted a National Prayer breakfast, and even more impactful, in 1954 the US added “One Nation, Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1955 the US added “In God We Trust” to money. For the first time the United States was portraying itself as Christian: to be a good American, you had to be Christian; to be a good Christian, you had to be American. For the next seventy years, this was largely the status quo.

That status quo is now ending. America is returning to its secular roots. To be a good American, you no longer have to be a Christian. It’s a big shift, to be sure. But how does this shift impact us in 2023? I’d argue, it doesn’t, or at least it shouldn’t. In the movie Men In Black, when Will Smith joins MIB he is told “You are no longer part of the system; you are above the system. Over it. Beyond it.” For us, since we have joined the Kingdom of Jesus, we are no longer a part of the world system. Going back to Daniel 2, Babylon was described as the golden head, yet even the best part of the statue was smashed by the rock, which Daniel goes onto say is the Kingdom of God. it doesn’t matter whether the United States of America is the silver, bronze, iron, or clay part of the statue, it is going to get smashed by God. It is an insignificant worldly kingdom that is going to be smashed by God. It doesn’t matter what is happening in America because for all spiritual intents and purposes, a citizen of God’s Kingdom is no longer American.

Satan wants to divide us—divide and conquer is a tried-and-true strategy. Long ago, the Enemy realized persecution only united God’s people, that’s why I believe that mass style of persecution is never coming back in any global way. Where are the places Christianity is growing fastest? In the Middle East and in China, places of real, actual persecution. And if real persecution does come to America, all the better because then we truly put it on the line for Jesus. But it isn’t. No, the best way to destroy God’s people is from the inside. A house divided cannot stand. Satan wants us to get sucked into fighting over culture wars in America that ultimately don’t matter. It distracts us from the mission we have as God’s Kingdom people—proclaiming his reign and being a tangible manifestation of that reign in our communities.

One of the big culture wars of the 1920s was left-handedness. Some Christians associated being left-handed with practicing witchcraft, evilness. Christians even claimed Satan was left-handed! Here is a chart of left-handedness in the United States over the last 120 years:

The number of left-handed people didn’t magically explode in 1940s America and then plateau. No, the number of left-handed people remained the same; the difference was people were allowed to be lefthanded. It became a non-issue, culturally. A similar thing happened in the 1960s with interracial marriage. Some Christians protested out in the streets saying interracial marriage should remain illegal because it was a sin for the races to mix. Worldly culture doesn’t matter. It has always been fallen; it will always be fallen. Just like with the Men In Black quote, we are beyond the world now. We still live in it, but we must be above it. Does the person believe that Jesus is the Son of God? That he died for us when we were still sinners and rose from the dead, and through Grace undeserved allowed us to be adopted into the Kingdom? And that we are called to go forth and be disciples that make disciples? If yes to all three then it really doesn’t matter what that person thinks otherwise, because anything else we are arguing over isn’t a Kingdom issue, but a left-handed issue.

Delivered and Transferred

“[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” – Colossians 1:13-14

The domain of darkness—the rule, authority, dominion of darkness. This is the same dominion that came to arrest Jesus in the garden and later crucify him (Luke 22:52-53). The same darkness that is so easy for us to love and be trapped in, without even knowing it’s a trap. In darkness, we feel our selfish desires and deeds are safely hidden away (John 3:19-21). Satan provides that false sense of security there—he wants us to feel comfortable in the dark. But Satan’s power pales in comparison to God’s. When our eyes are opened, how can we help but turn to the light (Acts 26:16-18)?

Praise be to God that he has delivered us from that dominion. We don’t belong there anymore. He has set us free. He has transferred our citizenship to the kingdom of light, where his Son reigns as our King. We will still wrestle with this darkness. We live in a world where darkness surrounds us. But God is sovereign over it all. He gives us strength, he gives us wisdom, he gives us faith and endurance. He gave us his Spirit to dwell within us. No matter what the darkness throws at us, we can rest in the true peace and security of our glorious kingdom and King. Ephesians 6:10-20 paints that picture well.

Jesus put this short statement in Colossians 1:13-14 on full display as recorded in John chapter 9. A man blind from birth, who literally knows only darkness, is met by Jesus and some of his disciples in Jerusalem. As was common in that day, it was assumed that his condition (as any type of suffering) was brought about by sin in his or his family’s life. But no, Jesus says that the blind man is here so that the works of God might be displayed in him. Jesus has already proclaimed that a new Kingdom, God’s Kingdom, has come (Mark 1:14-15). He said HE is the light of the world (John 9:5), and he was about to display the deliverance from the kingdom of darkness and transference to the Kingdom of Light through this blind man.

Jesus mixes up some mud and rubs it in this guy’s eyes. What would you think if someone did this to you? You’re born blind, and some random guy says “hey, let me rub this in your eyes.” Sounds crazy. But this guy literally had blind faith. Jesus told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. He could have just snapped his fingers (or less) and the guy would be able to see. But Jesus wanted him to respond in faith. I believe this was a precursor to being washed in baptism. His faith in Christ, before he even knew who Jesus was, healed him (Ephesians 2:8).

Now, the dominion of darkness does not like to lose parishioners. The deliverance of the blind man stirs up the agents of darkness all around. The striking thing here is who is playing that role of the agents of darkness—the Pharisees, supposed men of God whose whole mission in life is supposed to be to hold up God and His laws as supreme. There are, of course, many examples of just how far this group as a whole had fallen from that. But this should highlight for us that even with the best intentions at the outset, we must be on guard that we don’t end up serving the wrong kingdom.

The Pharisees are clearly threatened by the great miracle that has occurred. They try to discredit Jesus since this work was done on the Sabbath and claimed that he couldn’t be from God. Some Pharisees didn’t buy that argument, knowing that a sign like this could only come from God. They summon the formerly-blind man’s parents, who didn’t even want to get involved because they were so afraid of the power of the Pharisees.

Calling him back for another interrogation, he gives this wonderfully simple testimony—“One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). How awesome. Someone should write a song with that in it…

He goes on to expose the shallowness of this group of religious leaders. They should have superior knowledge and understanding, and yet they have no idea who the miracle worker is. The blind man’s eyes were opened, and he already has deeper spiritual insight than these learned, pious men. How much we can learn from this—from both the angle of being confident in our faith, knowing that we don’t have to have complete understanding to proclaim the truth within us, and also that we dare not become prideful in our understanding as if we have it all figured out. We see because He opened our eyes, not because we opened them ourselves.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 4:6

The formerly-blind man was kicked out of the synagogue. The truth of his story would distract the people from blindly following their blind guides. Let this be a lesson to all of us in the Kingdom of Light: we will be hated by many who refuse to believe. Jesus said in John 15:18-20 that we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the world hates us. The world hated him first and they will hate us because we follow him. If we find that the world loves us, we need to check where our allegiance lies…

That persecution is part of the suffering we will endure during this life on earth. But what an awesome prize we have to gain when Christ’s glory is fully revealed! (1 Peter 4:12-14) What an awesome day it will be when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, is King over all. (Philippians 2:10-11)

Much like this blind guy, we were born into darkness in this world. If it weren’t for God and his Son, we would only know darkness. Praise be to God that he opens the eyes of the blind (Psalm 146:8).

When Christ opens our eyes, we see that he is worthy of our worship just like the blind man did (John 9:38). We see that he is worthy of our very lives. Paul says in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Because the “gospel,” the good news, isn’t just that we have forgiveness in Christ through his sacrifice so that we can “go to Heaven” one day. The good news is that God’s Kingdom has come! The King has come! And that King is offering us citizenship in his eternal dominion. We get to take part in that citizenship right now. Right where we are. He has already delivered and transferred us. Our eternal life has already started. What kingdom are you living for?

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9

The How and Why of the Kingdom of God

I can’t describe this topic better than is contained in this short soundbite from the After Class Podcast. Please take 15 minutes to listen. I hope you’ll consider listening to more of their material as well.

“The Kingdom is not advanced top-down, by the sword, by the legal gavel, through the pen of legislation—the Kingdom comes as a GIFT.” – John Nugent

The After Class Podcast, Episode 2.9 – Explaining the Kingdom – How and Why
(https://afterclass.libsyn.com/explaining-the-kingdom-how-and-why)

If you found that to be of value, here’s an excellent follow-up episode: https://afterclass.libsyn.com/228-embracing-the-kingdom-part-1

Thanks to John, Ron, and Sam at the After Class Podcast!

Declaring Independence from the United States of America

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” 

On July 2nd, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to separate the 13 colonies from Great Britain. Penned by Thomas Jefferson, the words above make up the preamble to the Declaration of Independence which was signed on July 4th, 1776 and adopted on August 2nd. There is a long historical debate about when the colonists began to see themselves as independent from Great Britain which I won’t hash out here, but for many of the members of the Continental Congress the idea of actual independence was a new and radical idea. For many reading this blog, what follows may be as equally a radical idea as separating from Great Britain, but God called and continues to call for the citizens of his Kingdom to be radically different from the World. God calls us to be Citizens of his Kingdom, not citizens of the United States of America. 

Especially in the Southern United States, being a Christian is intertwined with being a patriot. In fact growing up, the hymn book I sang out of had patriotic songs in the back. Or think about how most churches have an American flag somewhere close to or insight of the pulpit. This connection also works the other way. The Pledge of Allegiance has the phrase “One Nation, Under God” and U.S. currency has the phrase “In God We Trust.” That being a Christian is to be an American is so ingrained in our culture that many Christians will call the United States a “Christian Nation.” As both a Christian and a historian I am here to tell you that the United States is not nor has never been a Christian nation. The idea that the United States is a Christian nation is only about 70 years old and was created as a piece of propaganda during the Cold War as a way to make the United States seem like the “good” guy against the atheistic “bad” guy the Soviet Union. The harsh truth is the United States is part of the “Powers and Principalities” (Ephesians 6:12) of this world and as such will pass away (1 John 2:17). 

Furthermore, living an American life is the antithesis of living a life for the Kingdom. After the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote the colonies were separating from Great Britain in part so the colonists could secure the rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” In their American context, all three of these ideas stand opposed to our Kingdom mission. The first is the easiest to explain. As Christians our life is not our own, but to God. Therefore, if we fight to save our life from the powers of this world, we will accomplish nothing but losing it. (Luke 9:24). Yet if we lose our life in service of the Kingdom, then we have gained it. Similarly, as a Christian there is really no true freedom. We are either slaves to sin (i.e. the world) or slaves to righteousness (i.e. the Kingdom of God) (Romans 8:15-18). However, being a citizen of the Kingdom means we are free to become like any and all people so that we may reach as many people as possible (1 Corinthians 9).   

Lastly, the Continental Congress wanted to separate from Great Britain so that Americans could pursue happiness. In today’s climate happiness is often equated with comfort. The American ethos is work hard so you can buy stuff that makes you comfortable and happy. In fact, there are some that have married the idea of being a Christian and being wealthy into “the Prosperity Gospel” which is as false a teaching as someone could preach about the Gospel. But as Christians we are not called to be happy in the world, rather we are called to take joy in the Kingdom. Think about how often you have heard someone say I have worked hard for my stuff. While undoubtedly true, as members of the Kingdom we actually don’t own anything. Anything and everything we have is to be used for the Kingdom and by the Kingdom, because anything we have we must treat as if we are just borrowing it. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31) (Acts 4:32-35). To be clear, this does not mean we have to sell everything we own and go live in the desert and live off of honey and locust. What it means is that everything we have and do must be centered towards building the kingdom. And to put a bow on this thought, Jesus in Matthew 6:24 during the Sermon on the Mount said “”No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Now in this passage the other master that Jesus referenced is money, and not an earthly kingdom, yet the lesson is clear. In terms of priority, God and his kingdom is first, and there is no second. 

In terms of priority, God and his kingdom is first, and there is no second. Click To Tweet

Just like treasure we store up for ourselves on earth will pass away (Matthew 6:19-21), so to will the Kingdoms of this world including the United States. In Daniel Chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had a dream. In this dream, he sees a giant statue with a head of gold, torso and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and its feet a mix of iron and clay. In this dream a rock not made of human hands smashes the statue and then the rock grows until it covers the earth. Daniel revealed to Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom was the head of gold, and the rest of the statue were going to be the kingdoms that came after his. The rock was the Kingdom of God, which will smash the kingdoms of the world and set up an everlasting Kingdom on the new Earth. (Daniel 2, Revelation 21-22). The United States is represented somewhere on that statue and as humans we can either be a part of the everlasting Rock, or a part of the destroyed statue. 

Now, at this point you might say that Paul was a citizen of the Roman Empire and he said we have to submit to whatever authority we live under (Romans 13). To that I would say that submission to the powers and principalities of this world is not the same submission that we have to Christ. We are called to abide by the rules of the authorities so long as it does not interfere with our Kingdom mission. Note that the same Paul who said we should submit to the rulers and pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-3) is also the same Paul who was arrested countless times by the rulers and authorities for preaching the gospel. What Paul meant, at least in my Kingdom centered interpretation of these passages, is it doesn’t matter what authority in the world you happen to live under give unto them what is theirs, like taxes, but don’t get caught up in the world. Paul used his Roman citizenship insofar as to use it to spread the gospel, but he considered his Roman citizenship and everything else he had or knew “garbage so that I might gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). This was one of the most important lessons the Jewish followers of Jesus had to learn. For centuries, they had been waiting for David 2.0. An earthly king who would reestablish the Davidic kingdom of Israel on Earth and overthrow the Roman Empire, or at least kick them out of Palestine. Yet, Jesus made clear his kingdom is not of this world. As Christians we are called to live out God’s picture of His Kingdom here on Earth regardless of where we live. 

Jesus is often called the Prince of Peace, and rightly so, for citizens of the Kingdom his yoke is easy and his burden light (Mathew 11:30). But for those outside of the Kingdom, there will be no peace. Even among biological families Jesus said “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-37). How much more unworthy are we of Jesus if we love the country we live in more than Jesus. Therefore, to fully live out our Kingdom mission we must spiritually revoke our citizenship from the world, divest ourselves from its cares and concerns and declare our Independence from the United States of America. 

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