Summary: Significance is a matter of perspective—man's versus God's.
Our perception of things is unreliable; we often think we have the right perspective on an issue when in fact we are way off. Tom Wheeler, former CEO of Mass Mutual Life Insurance Company, tells a charming story that illustrates this point:
He and his wife were driving along an interstate highway when he noticed that their car was low on gas. Wheeler got off the highway at the next exit and soon found a rundown gas station with just one gas pump. He asked the lone attendant to fill the tank and check the oil, and then went for a little walk around the station to stretch his legs.
As he was returning to the car, he noticed that the attendant and his wife were engaged in an animated conversation. The conversation stopped as he paid the attendant. As he got back into the car, he saw the attendant wave and say, "It was great talking to you."
As they drove out of the station, Wheeler asked his wife if she knew the man. She readily admitted she did. They had gone to high school together and had dated steadily for about a year.
"Boy, were you lucky that I came along," bragged Wheeler. "If you had married him, you'd be the wife of a gas station attendant instead of the wife of a chief executive officer."
"My dear," replied his wife, "if I had married him, he'd be the chief executive officer and you'd be the gas station attendant."
It’s all about perspective.
1. Sometimes our perspective on the scope and influence of Christianity in the world is wrong. We see ourselves as a meager minority: insignificant compared to the more powerful groups that seem to control society.
2. At times, these larger groups look at believers in the same way. In their perspective, we are insignificant, of no consequence at all in the big picture of world affairs.
3. Each of these ideas existed in Jesus’ day. Those who opposed him saw his followers as an insignificant group: small and of no importance. Similarly, Jesus’ followers believed they were too small a group to be of any influence; So…
4. Jesus uses another parable to denounce the perspective of both groups. OYBT Mt 13.
II. PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED (13:31-32)
1. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. The mustard seed is tiny, but is not, in fact, the smallest of all seeds—its small size was proverbial. Jesus uses it to call attention to the small number of faithful ones around him.
2. His parable offers hope, promising great outcomes from small beginnings. Jesus intended to encourage the first disciples, who faced daunting odds.
A. Indeed, the beginnings were small. By Matthew's time, the disciples had encountered serious opposition. It did not appear that the small movement of Christ's followers stood a chance against the forces arrayed against it.
3. From the tiny seed grows a tree that stands 10-12 feet tall, which is hardly comparable to the mighty cedars of Lebanon, with which Israel prefers to liken itself.
A. Why would Jesus not compare the kingdom of heaven to a great tree instead of a small one? Keep in mind that the theme of this parable is the comparison between a small seed and a 10-12 foot tree.
B. We find an interesting similarity in the church as it has developed over the centuries. It too is very different from its beginnings, extending to every nation on earth.
i. Despite some grand cathedrals and an occasional display of social power, the church still manifests itself in modest ways; more like a mustard tree than a towering cedar.
ii. Perhaps Jesus wanted to draw attention away from the fascination with size that captivated so many in his day (and ours). How often do we envy the mega churches while forgetting the parable of the mustard seed?
iii. Jesus reminds his followers that a mature tree can grow from the smallest of seeds; despite their modest beginnings, the world would eventually see God through them.
4. Arland Hultgren of Luther Seminary in Minnesota comments "The imagery of birds making nests in the branches of the tree (32) is eschatological symbolism from the OT, in which all the nations come to rest in the branches of a tree, the kingdom of God (Dan. 4:12; Ezek. 17:23)".
III. OBSERVATIONS ON THE TEXT:
1. The kingdom of God refers to his reign rather than realm. In other words, the parables address God’s rule in men’s hearts rather than describing his dominion in a physical kingdom.
A. It was easy for Jesus’ listeners to understand this. His followers knew there were very few of them who had completely committed themselves to his ways. The vast majority of their society still rejected him.