Stewards of the Mystery of the Kingdom

Stewards of the Mystery of the Kingdom

Stewards of the Mystery of the Kingdom.

“A person should consider us in this way: as servants of Christ and as stewards of the mysteries of God. Think of us as Messiah’s official underlings and as those who are entrusted with the mysteries of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1).

SERVANTS: (Greek, “hyperetas”); literally the under-rower, the lowly person pulling the oars on the lower deck of the ship; the underlings; the subordinates who have special orders. A servant of Christ is one who is content to decrease while Christ increases, who considers it a privilege to serve Jesus in a way that is hidden, humble, and full of trust in God’s purposes.

STEWARDS: (Greek, “oikonomos”); literally the manager of a household responsible to dispense what is needed; the custodian in a home given the responsibility to carefully distribute the necessities when needed; managers; caretakers; trustees, or those entrusted with important responsibilities from the owner of the house. In this context, to responsibly take care of the revelations of God and disperse the knowledge of God’s mysteries in a way that would honor the owner’s wishes; to carefully explain the revealed secrets of God’s in a responsible way; to guard the sanctity of what God has decided to reveal. A competent and faithful steward would be one who “holds the mystery of the Faith with a pure conscience.” (1 Timothy 3:9), since we are also called to be “stewards of God’s grace.” (Ephesians 3:2).  So if God has anything to do with it, these stewards of God’s mysteries must “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15).

MYSTERY: (Greek, “mysterion”); a sacred secret hidden in the heart of God until the appointed time of revelation; a truth that can only be known by divine disclosure; spiritual insights into God’s way of thinking and planning; hidden truths revealed by God that are beyond human intellect and reason; divine knowledge that can only be understood through the Holy Spirit; God’s thoughts and plans revealed to believers and hidden to skeptical doubters and those who choose not to believe.

“Then the disciples went up to Jesus and asked, ‘Why do you talk to them in parables?’ In answer, He said ‘Because to you is granted to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not granted.'” (Matthew 13:11).

Evidently, up to this point in time in Matthew‘s gospel (chapter 13), Jesus has already shared various “mysteries of the kingdom” with the disciples. What has Jesus told the disciples thus far that has revealed fresh truths about His kingdom? What has Jesus revealed about the kingdom to this point in His ministry?

Taking this from the beginning, in Matthew 4, Jesus began His ministry by calling people to repentance, “because the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (4:17). Apparently the kingdom will be filled by those who have repented of their sins, who have confessed of their rebellion against almighty God. Jesus then proclaimed “the good news of the kingdom” by healing all manner of diseases and illnesses around the entire territory of Galilee (4:23-24). So Jesus was sharing that the kingdom will involve life-giving healing, not only spiritually through repentance but also physically through His healing ministry.

Jesus soon thereafter gathered His followers in order to explain in more detail what the kingdom looks like. He proceeded to teach His audience about the unexpected, topsy-turvy nature of the kingdom through His Beatitudes (5:1-12). Contrary to the way the world seems to work, the poor in spirit are actually blessed by God, as are the meek and humble; the mourners are also congratulated, as well as those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness; the merciful are to be celebrated along with the pure in heart; the peacemakers are to be honored for their actions, and those who are persecuted are actually in the process of being blessed by the Lord for their troubles. These are indeed mysteries of the kingdom that are being revealed by Jesus. Why, the very people who appear to be cursed by God, or who seem especially vulnerable to the world’s powers, are actually in a state of blessing! Everything seems upside-down in the kingdom, and Jesus wants His followers to know about this unexpected aspect of life with the King. In His kingdom, those who are down and out are in truth up and in!

Jesus continued unpacking the kingdom for His disciples in His astounding Sermon on the Mount. We are assured that the kingdom certainly has a Law, it’s just not the Law everyone assumes. The kingdom will reflect the spirit of the Law, the essential point of the Law, as revealed by Jesus. So He proceeded to give examples of the Law of His kingdom about such aspects as murder and anger, adultery and lust, divorce and marriage, revenge and submission, and love of enemies. Jesus wanted to get right to the heart of the Law, revealing the ethos of His kingdom. The standards of the kingdom go higher and deeper than the traditional Law. Jesus made it very clear that He came to complete the Law, not abolish it. It almost looks like He expects the impossible, a perfectly moral life. Maybe He is saying that we’ll never hope to meet His high standards without His help.

Apparently the kingdom will involve a lot of conversation between God and His believers (6:5-13). Jesus revealed some kingdom thoughts on prayer, including the model kingdom prayer to consider as we address the Father. The kingdom is described here as the place where God’s Name is sacred and His will is done, which is when the kingdom comes to earth. Petitions for sustenance and forgiveness are expressed in this prayer, as well as a plea to be saved from the Evil One. The Lord’s Prayer is in many ways the kingdom in a nutshell, the priorities of the kingdom, summarized.

Jesus closed His Sermon with a surprising and scary thought about the kingdom (7:21-23). Evidently not everyone who does powerful religious deeds are included in the kingdom. No, Jesus is looking for those who truly know Him and are known by Him. So it’s possible for someone to say, “Lord, Lord” without actually having a relationship with God. Jesus then illustrated this point with one of His patented parables. If you want to know me, He said, if you want to be a true disciple of mine, then listen to me, obey what I ask you to do, act upon my instructions. Then you’ll be like the wise person who built his house on a strong foundation of solid rock. The main point is another mystery of the kingdom… It will be populated by friends of God, those who have developed a personal relationship with Him, who have built their life on Jesus. It looks like miracle-workers and prophets need not apply.

Jesus continued His kingdom work (11:15-22) by more healing, calming a storm, and fearlessly rejecting many of His religious contemporaries. A profound mystery of the kingdom is revealed here by Jesus: Divine truth is revealed to little children and the child-like trusting heart, and not  to the learned and clever. The kingdom will evidently be filled with teachable souls, not necessarily brilliant intellects who think they know it all.

Jesus revealed an amazing secret in 11:29… God is humble! Jesus uncovers here something important about the nature of God, and this must be an operating principle and eternal virtue of the kingdom. The Son of almighty God, the Co-Creator of the universe, the most powerful miracle-working prophet the people have ever seen, is humble in heart! Jesus wants to be defined at least in part by His humility. So that’s what the kingdom is about, that’s what the King values.

Another mystery of the kingdom is uncovered in 12:15-21. Jesus wanted to keep His miracles secret from the adoring crowd. He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy in Is. 42, that the Messiah will not look for public applause. He will not go out of His way to make a big spectacle of Himself. A virtue of the kingdom is that there will not be an emphasis on show-time, but instead on the King’s ways of being quiet, unobtrusive, self-effacing. He will not be heard in the streets, but will be quietly merciful, supporting the crushed reed and igniting the faltering wick. These are values of the kingdom. Don’t try to put your name in lights. Instead, be a light through quiet works of mercy.

It seems that Jesus’ favorite way of revealing mysteries about the kingdom was through digestible little stories, His homespun parables. “I will open my mouth and tell stories. I will bring out into the open things hidden  since the world’s first day.” (13:35). These stories were just as much the Word of God as His sermons. He told imaginative stories that would tend to separate the seekers from the scoffers. Parables would inspire the teachable, and perplex the doubters. For those who didn’t want to take His stories personally or thoughtfully, the main point was clouded over and obscured. So some in the audience didn’t learn a thing with Jesus’ parables. They heard but they didn’t understand. If they didn’t want the seed of truth to grow roots in a fertile heart, they missed the point altogether. On the other hand, those with an open mind and a teachable heart would have all sorts of kingdom mysteries revealed to them. The seeds would grow root and bear fruit in their lives. In this way, the kingdom would spread through the imaginative and pointed use of unexpectedly power-packed stories. The kingdom doesn’t depend on three-point sermons. Stories can also get the job done.

Jesus once said to His audience that “the kingdom of God is within you,” or “among you,” or “in your midst.” (Luke 17:21). Therein lies a wonderful secret of the kingdom, a sacred mystery… Wherever Jesus is, you will find the kingdom. Is Jesus in your midst? You’re in the kingdom. Is the Spirit of Jesus within you? You are indeed a kingdom citizen. The kingdom is present wherever Jesus is King. His kingdom is wherever His will is done on earth as it is done in heaven. And there will come a time when we will experience the kingdom in all its glory. We might see it incompletely in this world right now, but the final installment is coming and our joy will be complete.