Summary: From small beginnings, the World-Wide Church. The hidden workings of the Word in a life.
THE MUSTARD SEED AND THE LEAVEN
A. The Mustard Seed
This Sermon had its roots in a children’s address given long ago and far away. At that time I was interested (for all the best practical reasons) in gardening. I brought some seeds as a visual aid, and drew attention to their smallness.
A mustard seed is about the size of a pin-head: and in the right climate, the plant might grow big enough to hold the weight of an adult male. I have heard of a man who built a swing in his mustard tree; another was able to cover his tent with a branch of it, and partake of its produce. So much for small beginnings!
The point of the parable is self-evident: “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed” (Matthew 13:31). It begins small and insignificant, but grows like a mighty tree. That which looked so delicate in the beginning will grow big, yield fruit, and provide shelter (Matthew 13:32).
The kingdom of heaven is currently operating both through the church, and in the individual Christian. Although the two ideas are not mutually exclusive, we shall look more at the operation in the individual when we come to discuss the leaven. In the meantime, we might view the parable of the mustard seed as one in which Jesus predicted the phenomenal growth of the church, which from small beginnings in Galilee is now as ‘world-wide’ as the Web - and still growing.
From small beginnings, and not without persecution, the church has grown into a force to be reckoned with. There have been internal troubles, but so long as the truth is proclaimed, souls have been won for Christ - sometimes in great numbers as at Pentecost, and in the great revivals - other times in the two and threes which also will make up the company of heaven: one at the mill, another in the field, another in a bed (perhaps of sickness). We must not despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10).
The “fowls of the air” (Matthew 13:32) are not to be taken in a negative sense, as if they had no right to be there: but as the Gentiles, who come to find their shelter in the Messiah (cf. Ezekiel 17:23; Daniel 4:12; Daniel 4:20-22). I thank God that it is so.
B. The Leaven
Leaven has a bad press.
First, there is the purging away of leaven at the Passover (Exodus 12).
Then Jesus warns us of ‘the leaven of the Pharisees’ (Matthew 16:6).
Paul also has strong words about ‘the leaven of malice and wickedness’ (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
Despite this, Jesus uses leaven as a similitude of “the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 13:33).
My mentor, prior to becoming a student of the Ministry, was a Master Baker. Subsequently - through a lifetime of Christian service - he never relinquished the habit of rising early in the morning, preparing his ingredients, mixing and kneading everything together, adding yeast, and going away for his devotional quiet time with the Lord. One dear relation commented on the aptness of the two exercises.
What is so remarkable about leaven, is that it is “hidden” (Matthew 13:33). This shows us that the principle of the kingdom of heaven might be in operation in places - and in people - where we do not perceive it. The Word has been planted in someone’s heart, and yet we often do not know that it is so: time reveals an unexpected result.
This serves as a great encouragement to those who preach, and who minister. We may not always see the results of our labours, but we must persevere nevertheless.
There are things which go on in the hidden parts of a life, which though out of our sight, are not unknown to God: and His Word will not return unto Him void (Isaiah 55:11).