“The kingdom of heaven is like . . .”
And here begins a common phrase used by Jesus to introduce his popular way of teaching to his disciples and the crowds around him. “The kingdom of heaven is like . . . treasure hidden in a field . . . a merchant looking for fine pearls . . . a net that was let down into the lake . . . a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son . . .” And so on and so on.
Jesus told us about the kingdom of heaven by telling us stories. Uncomfortable, scandalous stories like the good Samaritan. Stories of estranged families like the prodigal son. Stories with so-called ridiculous premises like the laborers in the vineyard. Stories that were confusing and needed immediate interpretation like the parable of the sower.
It seemed Jesus was never without a great idea for a parable to use as an illustration to teach about the kingdom of heaven and to advance the gospel in new ways to a variety of crowds. Though humans certainly cannot come remotely close to having the omniscient knowledge of the eternal Son, today’s pastors still have an almost unlimited number of resources to pull kingdom-building parables from. But these don’t begin with the phrase “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .” Instead you’ll find these stories beginning with “Paramount Pictures presents . . .” Or “Disney Pixar Animation presents . . .” Or “Ridley Scott presents . . .”
Pastors, do yourself and your sermons a gigantic favor and start looking at how many of today’s movies and television shows can be served as parables to communicate the gospel to a variety of crowds. And I’m not talking about only “church approved” movies like God’s Not Dead and Fireproof. I mean to imply the uncomfortable, scandalous stories, the stories of estranged families, the stories with so-called ridiculous premises, the artsy movies that are so confusing that they need immediate interpretation (Birdman anyone?). Just like Jesus’ parables.
“The kingdom of heaven is like . . . an astronaut drifting alone into eternal space who is found by the only person with the means to save her. At the cost of his own life, he provides for her all she needs to make it to the ship that can return her home.” (See 2013’s Gravity.)
“The kingdom of heaven is like . . . a mixed martial-arts fighter who is harboring so much resentment and lack of forgiveness for those in his life who have done him wrong that he cannot stop running from his own sins. In fact, he is so lost and his heart so hardened that he does not recognize his own need for forgiveness until it’s graciously offered to him freely by his enemy in the ring.” (See 2011’s Warrior.)
“The kingdom of heaven is like . . .” And fill in the blank. Could there by an analogy to make concerning The Walking Dead and those who look alive but are actually dead? What about the recent string of dead-coming-to-life shows like Resurrection and The Returned? Man of Steel and its 2016 sequel Batman v. Superman are filled with stories about the world’s need for a Savior, even when they don’t agree or understand it completely.
Pastors, do not be afraid to use today’s parables to teach truths about the gospel and the kingdom of heaven. Not everyone in your congregation will love it all, or approve of it, but I don’t recall Jesus considering the opinions of the scribes and Pharisees before he knowingly told stories that would upset them. But they did reach the hearts of those who needed to hear it, just as you will when you use some of these favorite stories of theirs for the advancement of the gospel.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, his most recent being All You Need to Know about the Bible in Pop Culture. He also writes at BibleInPopCulture.comand can be found on Twitter under the handle @PopCultureKevin.