Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived. He traveled throughout Galilee, Samaria, and Judea for around 3 years proclaiming wonderful truths about the Kingdom of God. Thousands of people came to hear Jesus speak, some from great distances, and they were greatly amazed by His wisdom. Some of these people literally followed Jesus for days and weeks at a time, so enamored by His words that they didn’t want to go home.
Like any good teacher, Jesus was skilled at using everyday examples to explain deep and sometimes difficult concepts. He often used parables while speaking rather than direct teaching. These parables were simple, short stories that contained one or more lessons or morals. These stories were interesting and familiar, and made His teaching all the more enjoyable for His listeners. Still, many who heard these parables were unable to grasp their true meaning.
Last week, we began this new series with a message about the manner in which God’s Kingdom grows. As we faithfully spread the Word of God, like a sower scattering seeds on the soil, the LORD will ensure that His Kingdom increases just as He desires. Today, in the second message of this study, we will consider the magnitude or extent of the Kingdom’s growth. We have already learned how it grows, but what what degree will it grow?
Again this morning we will examine 2 related parables. Both of them are very short. Together, this pair of stories emphasize how the Kingdom of God will expand immensely despite small and somewhat meager beginnings.
I. THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED - Matt. 13:31-32; Mark 4:30–32; Luke 13:18–19
The Parable of the Mustard Seed is included in all 3 synoptic gospels. The story itself is told in virtually the same way in each instance, with no meaningful differences. However, the exact setting in which this parable was delivered is somewhat unclear. Matthew and Mark record this parable during the same discourse as those we studied last Sunday - spoken on the beach near the Sea of Galilee. Luke seems to suggest that it was delivered sometime later, perhaps at a synagogue on the Sabbath. It is quite possible that Jesus used this same parable on multiple occasions and in different places. Irregardless, the setting of its delivery is not as important as the story’s meaning and application.
The parable tells of a man who planted a mustard seed in his field or garden. The tiny seed was smaller than all of the other seeds. But over time the little seed grew into a large tree, much grander than all of the other garden plants that surrounded it. The tree’s branches spread out so marvelously that the birds of the air came and nested in and upon them.
In this brief parable, the man represents Jesus and the mustard seed represents the Kingdom of God. The story beautifully illustrates the great magnitude to which God’s Kingdom would grow. What had begun as a small movement among a handful of believers in Galilee would someday spread to encompass the entire world. From Jerusalem, the Word of God would go out to the farthest reaches of the earth. This expansion is detailed at length in the book of Acts, and it continues even to this very day.
Not only is the mustard seed small, but the mustard plant itself is not the most desirable. Many would consider it to be more of a weed than anything else. Yet this ugly and objectionable shrub would increase to become the most mighty and noble tree in the field. Ironic, isn't it? The Kingdom of God has always been viewed by some as an unwanted nuisance that should be uprooted up and cast out.
There are various also interpretations regarding the birds that nest in the tree. Since the seed represents the Kingdom of God, I tend to believe that the resulting tree would include all of God’s children. Therefore the birds must be outsiders - namely impostors and/or false teachers - who settle themselves in the tree, enjoying its many blessings, yet are themselves not part of it. If so, this parable presents both a prediction of growth and a warning against charlatans.
II. THE PARABLE OF THE LEAVEN - Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21
The Parable of the Leaven is found in Matthew and Luke. In both gospels it was spoken immediately after and in conjunction with Parable of the Mustard Seed. The Parable of the Leaven further emphasizes the same main idea, only in a slightly different way. The entire story is contained in a single verse, making it one of the shortest parables that Jesus spoke.
This parable tells of a woman who hid a small amount of leaven in 3 pecks or measures of flour. Then, in just a relatively short period of time, the entire quantity became leavened.
The method used to make bread in ancient times did not include modern, commercially sold yeast. Instead, bakers would make and keep cultures of bacteria and wild yeast called leaven to be used again and again. Small amounts of this fermented dough would be mixed into flour as needed in order to bake bread. When even a small amount of leaven was added to the mixture, the yeast would rapidly spread to affect the entire lump.
This parable again pictures the quick and comprehensive spreading of God’s Kingdom. What began as small and seemingly insignificant would end up having a remarkable and widespread impact. The 3 pecks mentioned in the story are estimated to be approximately 8 ½ gallons of flour - a huge amount. Yet, given sufficient time, all of it would become leavened due to the pervasive and unstoppable growth of a tiny amount of yeast. It the same way, God’s Kingdom would experience unrelenting growth.
Notice that the woman hides the leaven in the flour, as opposed to intentionally mixing it in. This choice of words is intentional. It reflects the offensive nature of the leaven which necessitates its being hidden. Yet, as it properties spread, the leaven can be concealed no longer due to its marvelous and visible increase.
It is noteworthy that each of these stories applies to a particular gender. The Parable of the Mustard Seed focuses on a man who is doing everyday agricultural work. The Parable of the Leaven speaks of a woman who was performing the common household task of making bread. By using both examples together as He taught, Jesus appealed to everyone present in the crowd - both men and women. He used this same approach on other occasions as well, which we’ll discover later on in this series.
The two parables that we’ve discussed today primarily emphasize the expansive growth of God’s Kingdom. Jesus foretold that His small following of disciples would end up becoming a huge throng of believers. Though it was considered insignificant and inconsequential at first, the Kingdom would ultimately become most glorious. Its presence would be evident to all. Without a doubt, the seemingly impossible growth of God’s Kingdom from such meager beginnings into the world’s largest religion testifies of the LORD’s mighty work.
In addition to the physical aspect of Kingdom growth, there is also a spiritual application. What may begin as just a small kernel a faith within the new believer can and should blossom into an all-consuming dedication to Christ. Such is the nature of God’s Kingdom within the heart and life of an authentic Christian. It envelopes them completely.
So far we have examined 4 fascinating parables. In them, we have learned about how God’s Kingdom grows and the great expanse to which it has already and will continue to grow. Next week we will conclude Jesus’ parables on the Kingdom with 2 additional stories that underscore the tremendous value of the Kingdom of God.