Kingdom Parables

The Parable of the Dragnet

Matthew 13:47-52

Teaching t22006


This morning we cover the last of the parables Jesus told in Matt.13—the parable of the dragnet.  Let’s begin by reading the parable and the dialogue that comes after it (read 13:47-52).  In 13:52, Jesus says that an understanding of these parables enables us to not only affirm what the Old Testament taught about God’s kingdom, but also to learn new things about God’s kingdom. 

The Old Testament prophets taught that when the Messiah comes, he will dramatically terminate “this present evil age” and replace it with God’s perfect, world-wide kingdom.  This will include separating all people into one of two groups—the “righteous” and the “wicked.”  He will welcome the “righteous” into his kingdom, but he will banish the “wicked” to everlasting punishment (cf.Dan.12:2).

Who are the “righteous” and the “wicked?”

Before we go any farther, we have to understand what Jesus means by “righteous” and “wicked.”  When we read these terms, we naturally assume that the “righteous” refers to people who do lots of righteous deeds, and that the “wicked” refers to people who do lots of wicked deeds.  But this is not what he means.  Jesus (and the rest of the Bible) makes it very clear that the “righteous” may include people who have done very wicked things, while the “wicked” may include people who have done no outwardly wicked things and lots of outwardly good things.  Briefly recount Lk.18:9-14.  The man who did lots of wicked things goes home “justified” (declared righteous), while the man who did lots of moral and religious things goes home not justified.  How can this be?

Read Rom.3:21-25a (NLT).  The only righteousness that counts is being declared right with God.  None of us can attain this verdict by our own works, because all of us fall short of his perfect standard.  But we can be declared right with God through faith in Jesus, no matter how unrighteously we have lived.  This is because Jesus died to pay the full penalty for our sins—so when we humbly entrust ourselves to him for this, God declares us “righteous” on the basis of Jesus’ payment. 

Imagine two people who both have an unpayable debt to the IRS.  One man owes a far greater debt than the other man, but neither can pay their debt.  Then a very generous man comes and says, “I will fully pay both of your debts.  All you need to do is admit that you can’t pay it and let me pay it for you in my name.”  What if the man with the greater debt thankfully agreed—but the man with the lesser debt said, “No thanks—I don’t need your help.”  The IRS would declare the first man “righteous,” but it would declare the second man guilty.

For all of our moral and religious differences, each of us is one of these two men.  We are either saying: “I depend only on God declaring me righteous through Jesus’ payment for me,” or we are saying: “I depend on my own righteousness and I reject God’s gift of righteousness through Jesus.”  Which one are you?  If you are saying the latter, you will be excluded from God’s kingdom, no matter how good you have been.  If you affirm the former, you will be welcomed into God’s kingdom, no matter how bad you have been.  This is the good news of Jesus Christ, which offends the self-righteous but gladdens the humble.

The new information

Now let’s go back to the parable.  The separation of the “righteous” from the “wicked” is “old” information.  What is the new information?  The new information is that during this stage of God’s kingdom, it will gather both true believers in Jesus and people who don’t truly believe in him.  A dragnet gathers both edible and inedible fish—they only get sorted out after the net is brought ashore and workers separate the fish.  In the same way, as the message about Jesus goes out through the world, it will gather people who truly respond with faith in Jesus and people who are among God’s people—yet not truly believing in Jesus.  This will get fully sorted out only when Jesus returns and his angels separate these people into these two groups.  The New Testament applies this truth in two main ways...

Not all leaders/groups that say they are “Christian” really are

The first way is that it teaches that not all leaders/groups that say they are “Christian” really are.  In Matt. 24:4,5,11, Jesus warns us that throughout this period of history, many will come “in his name” (claiming to represent him) and will deceive many people.  In Matt.7:15,16, Jesus warns us to watch out for false prophets who will claim to be one of his “sheep,” but who are actually “wolves in sheep’s clothing”—deceivers who lead others astray from the true Jesus.

The Bible teaches that behind this human activity is a spiritual enemy—Satan.  Satan knows that he cannot eradicate the true Jesus and his true gospel (see above), so he creates counterfeit Jesuses and counterfeit gospels.  He energizes these false prophets in order to keep people from coming to the true Jesus, to damage Jesus’ reputation, and to make other people cynical about Jesus.  And he has done a good job of this down through the centuries. 

I think about the “Christian” cults that sprang up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, in the midst of the Jesus Movement.  The Children of God lured young people in through sexual immorality.  Sun Yung Moon declared himself to be the true messiah and damaged many young people’s spiritual lives.  Jim Jones (Peoples Temple) and David Koresh (Branch Davidians) led their followers literally to their deaths through mass suicide and incineration.  These people were spiritually deceived, their families’ hearts were broken—and many people became cynical about any non-institutional churches, or even about Christianity itself.  Similar groups, led by similar leaders, continue to spring up all over the world—especially where Christianity is growing rapidly.

How can you discern genuinely Christian leaders/groups from counterfeits?  Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”  In other words, they will manifest certain characteristics that will give them away.  The most important of these “fruits” is whether their teachings agree with God’s Word, the Bible.  This is what Paul reminds Timothy of as he opposed false prophets in Ephesus (read 2Tim.3:13-15).  The best way to detect counterfeit currency is to be an expert in genuine currency.  Likewise, the best way to detect false teachers is to know the true teaching well—and the true teaching comes from the Bible.  The Bible teaches us who the true Jesus is (“Christ”—the only Messiah/Savior), and the Bible teaches us the true path to salvation (by grace through faith alone, as seen above).

Read Heb.5:13,14.  Are you become acquainted with the Bible?  Are you able to use the Bible to discern what you hear “Christian” leaders teach—on the radio, on the internet, in their books, here at this meeting?  Or do you just go by what you feel, what others think, etc.?  Sometimes people say to me: “I just trust what you say.”  Well, I value that trust—but you should trust the Bible more than you trust me!  My main job is to help you learn the Bible, so you can receive salvation through faith in Jesus and grow into a discerning follower of Jesus (Eph.4:11-14).  You should listen to everything I teach in light of whether the Bible teaches it.  And if I deviate from what the Bible teaches, you should question that.  (That’s one of the reasons we have Q & A—see 1Cor.14:29). 

Not everyone involved in a Christian church is really a Christian

The second way the New Testament applies this parable is that it teaches us that not everyone involved in a Christian church is really a Christian.  One famous Christian preacher said, “Going into a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you a car.”  As the message of Jesus goes out through a local Christian church like this one, many people are gathered—neighbors, friends, family members, etc.  This is a great thing, because the message of Jesus is meant to be shared, and the church of Jesus is to be a welcoming church.  But remember: being involved in a church doesn’t make you a Christian.  The one and only thing that makes you a Christian is personally receiving Jesus Christ, so that you know him personally and experience his transforming presence in your life.

This is why Paul ends his letter to the Corinthian church in this way (read 2Cor.13:5).  Why did he say this?  Because he assumed that there would be people who would hear this letter being read, and who attended their meetings, and who were positive about their message—but who had not truly received Jesus into their hearts so that they personally knew him.  This is the “test” he urges them to take.  It’s not a behavior test, nor is it a Bible knowledge test.  You can have lots of behavioral problems, and have very little Bible knowledge—and yet still be a genuine Christian.  On the other hand, you can be a nice, moral person, and have many Bible passages memorized—and yet still not be a Christian at all.  The key is this: Do you know that you have entrusted yourself to Jesus as your Savior, and do know that Jesus is in you?  True Christians may not know when they trusted Jesus, but they know they have.  True Christians have times when it doesn’t feel like Jesus is in them, but they have experienced his presence in their hearts—assuring them of God’s love, experiencing his forgiveness, bringing his Word alive to them, helping them to pray, guiding them in their moral decisions, etc.

Some of you are new here.  You should feel welcome, and you should feel free to learn what the Bible teaches, ask questions, enjoy our community, etc.  Hopefully, you are excited about what you are learning, and positive about the people you are meeting.  You may even have begun calling this your church.  That’s great—but remember: You still need to put your faith in Jesus to forgive you and ask him to come into your heart.  Don’t be surprised if people ask you about this more than once.  We aren’t trying to bug you—we just want you to truly “cross the line” so you can know that you belong to Jesus.  Maybe today is the day!

Some of you have been coming here (or to other Christian churches) for years.  Maybe you came with your parents when you were little, and just kept coming.  Maybe you came with your spouse or good friend, and just kept coming.  Maybe you have become familiar with the Bible, and have made many Christian friends, and even participate regularly in church activities.  But perhaps there is doubt in your heart about whether you have ever truly given your life to the living Jesus, that he has ever truly entered your heart as a living Person.  Perhaps there is doubt in your heart when we talk about this personal assurance about God’s love.  Perhaps there is doubt in your heart because you can’t relate to people wanting to share this faith in Jesus with others, and to let him radically change their lives.  It is not for me to judge whether you really have Jesus in you.  This is a matter between you and him.  But if you ask him, he will show you.  And if you are in doubt, you should make sure by telling him that you want him in your heart so you can know him.  I urge you to do this.  Don’t rely on being in the garage—become a car!  Don’t rely on attending a church—become a Christian!