A set of Jesus' parables about small beginnings gives us an important insight into the Kingdom of God.
It's mid-December, and the woods next to my home are settling into a winter sleep. The last leaves are clinging to bare tree limbs. Bushes and shrubs are trimmed back and prepared for the next season of growth. What looks like a dormant landscape around my home conceals a deeper cycle of life that is preparing in a few months to spring once again from the earth and dazzle me with beauty, wonder and joy. Nature never rests. Life continues moving forward.
Jesus gave another set of parables that gives important insight about the present, dynamic and inexorable force of the Kingdom of God. It adds another dimension of understanding to God's unfolding purpose.
Christ presents the Kingdom of God as a powerful force that, when dramatically revealed, will fill the entire world.
In Matthew 13 Jesus illustrates the Kingdom by comparing it to two very small elements. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed." He said, "which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and rest in its branches" (verses 31-32).
Mustard seeds are very tiny. If you try to hold a bunch in your hand they can easily fall out. Hundreds can cover only a small space in your palm. Indeed they are the least of the seeds, but when grown the plants can grow to 10 to 12 feet high and provide shelter and support for birds perching on their limbs. Quite a large output from such a small beginning!
Immediately following this, Matthew lists another similar parable involving an even smaller element: "Another parable He spoke to them: 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened'" (verse 33).
Leaven is an agent, typically a yeast spore, that permeates a lump of dough causing it to expand and soften. The spore is even smaller than a mustard seed, virtually invisible yet capable of expanding and multiplying and filling the whole ball of dough, making the dough many more times its original size.
Let's consider what we have in these two parables.
First, we have instruction about the Kingdom of Heaven continuing on from all the other parables Jesus gave in this section. One point is clear from these parables: The Kingdom of God is multifaceted and multidimensional. It takes several illustrations to understand its scope.
Second, these two parables show the very small beginnings of that Kingdom. A mustard seed is tiny, smaller than the head of a pin. It's hard to imagine something so small growing over time into a large plant. And leaven reaches into every part of a lump of dough and transforms the product. Jesus is giving profound insight into how the Kingdom of God works.
Just how small did the Kingdom begin? Consider the circumstances of Jesus' birth. The accounts in the Gospels portray a very small and humble beginning. Born into a young family from Nazareth, Jesus' birth was in the smallest of villages (Bethlehem). The circumstances of the birth were meager. It was quite a small start for the King of Kings.
Jesus' ministry started small and in the smallest of places. Galilee was the backwater section of an obscure part of the Roman world. Christ ventured no farther than Jerusalem with His message–and then only a few times, the majority of His time being spent in Galilee.
In the perspective of the Roman Empire, Jerusalem was not considered a cultural center. Rome, Athens and Alexandria featured more prominently on the political and cultural radar of that world. To the Romans, Jerusalem was a city of fanatics and seditious Jews, best kept in check by a legion of troops and pliant vassal kings like Herod and his family.
Jesus taught the message of the Kingdom of God from the beginning of His ministry. Mark 1:15 records Jesus coming into Galilee saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." Jesus came from God to proclaim this greatest of messages and make it known to His followers.
He not only preached the gospel of the Kingdom in what He said, but He lived it, showing by example what life could be like when the teachings and commandments of the Kingdom are followed. Yet again, this started in a very small corner of the world.
Though many thousands were impacted by Jesus' message, at the end of His life only a few more than a hundred disciples endured (see Acts 1:15). The Church indeed grew, but compared with the general population it remained quite small. Nevertheless, the seed of the Kingdom was planted. It began very small, then grew in stages.
But the Kingdom of God did not come to fill the entire earth–then or now. The Church Jesus founded would always be a small flock (Luke 12:32) unrecognized and often persecuted by the world. Still, the seed of the Kingdom was definitely planted by Christ. And today it continues to grow, waiting for the moment of the great harvest.
Mark's Gospel prefaces the parable of the mustard seed with another parable of Jesus: "The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26-29).
The seed of the Kingdom today grows in small and imperceptible ways. It was first planted by Christ and then taken to the world by His apostles and Church. However, it wasn't long before many were turned away from the true gospel to "a different gospel" (Galatians 1:6).
Today Jesus Christ's gospel message about the Kingdom of God is not fully understood by most people. Yet it continues to be revealed in the pages of the Bible. It bears fruit in the lives of those called and chosen by God. It is proclaimed to the world by God's Church. You are reading it here and hearing it when you view our Beyond Today TV program.
The seed of the gospel can be planted in your life and begin to bear fruit. The decision is yours. Understand that when you taste the "heavenly gift" and "the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" (Hebrews 6:4-5), your life will be changed forever.
Through the seed of God's Holy Spirit, a force is placed within you that is like that grain of mustard seed or leaven. It will grow of mustard seed or leaven. It will grow from a seed and potentially permeate every part of your life. It will transform your life as nothing else can. It is the most powerful force in the universe. When put to use it is transforming!
When Jesus Christ appears in glory, that Spirit will be the means by which God will transform your body to a spirit body sharing His glory (Romans 8:11; Philippians 3:21). This is the story greater than any you have heard. This is the truth of the Bible and the hope we have to rise above this life in hope of the world to come.
God wants to start small in your life and have it grow into something far greater than you could have imagined! Will you let Him?
- Darris McNeely