Summary: God delights in using small things for great purposes. How the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast apply to our lives.
Matthew 13 contains seven parables Jesus gives about the Kingdom of heaven. Most of His stories are based on agriculture, because all the people living in Galilee understood gardening. If you’re a gardener, these parables make more sense to you than to the non-gardeners. Let me give you a short test. If you can answer these correctly, then you qualify as a real gardener. (1) What do you call a grumpy and short-tempered Gardener? A Snap Dragon. (2) What do you get when you cross poison ivy with a four-leaf clover? A rash of good luck. (3) What do you call it when earthworms take over your entire garden? Global Worming. (4) What do you get when you measure a pumpkin and divide its outer circumference by its diameter? Pumpkin Pi. And, thankfully, only one more on the test: (5) What’s long and green and is a crack shot with a rifle? Annie Okra. I’m sure you’re glad that test is over!
Whether you’re a gardener or not, Jesus’ parables are so simple, anyone can understand them. I am continually amazed at how Jesus could take simple ordinary things like seeds or yeast and use them to teach tremendous spiritual principles. Today we’re going to look at two simple yet profound parables that teach us this lesson: “Little is Much When God is in It.”
Matthew 13:31-35. “He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.’ He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.’ Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’”
I’ve chosen the title, “Little is much when God is in it,” because both a mustard seed and yeast are tiny agents but if they are planted or placed in bread dough, they can both have amazing results. I borrowed the title from a song written by Kitty Suffield in 1924. It was a rather unknown song until it became a hit for the Gaither Vocal Band. One of the verses asks this question: “Does the place you’re called to labor, Seem so small and little known? It is great if God is in it, And He’ll not forget His own.” The chorus goes, “Little is much when God is in it! Labor not for wealth or fame. There’s a crown—and you can win it, If you go in Jesus’ Name.” Now let’s go behind the music. Kitty was the pianist at a small church in Ottawa, Canada. The pastor had a teenage son who sometimes sang in church, but he was shy and was reluctant to sing. Kitty encouraged him to use his gift for the Lord. That teenager’s name was George Beverly Shea, who grew up to sing to millions at the Billy Graham Crusades. She really believed that little is much when God is in it! Let’s examine both of these short parables and see how they apply to our lives.
I. MUSTARD SEED: GOD’S KINGDOM STARTS SMALL BUT GROWS LARGE!
A tiny seed has great potential. Several years ago an MIT student went to the Harvard University Football stadium every day during the summer. He blew a whistle and scattered birdseed on the field. For fifteen minutes each day he walked up and down the field, blowing a whistle and scattering birdseed.
At the first Harvard football game that season the referee blew the whistle for the kick-off—and the game was delayed half an hour to get rid of the thousands of birds that swooped down onto the football field looking for birdseed. The MIT student did it for two reasons. First, he hated Harvard, and second, he was conducting research on conditioned response. If you had seen him scattering seed in the summer you might not have known why he did it. But Jesus tells us WHY God plants seeds in this world: He is interested in growing His kingdom.
A mustard seed is tiny, only slightly larger than a grain of sand. But a mustard seed has something in it a grain of sand doesn’t: Life. It grows into a beautiful mustard plant. I’ve seen thousands of colorful, yellow mustard plants growing in Israel. Mustard plants can grow to be over eight feet tall. Like that living seed, the Kingdom is alive and although starts small, it grows very large as well. There are two different ways to think about how God’s Kingdom starts small and grows large.