He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Matthew 13:31-33

Matthew 13 might be called the Kingdom chapter. It contains nothing but parables about the Kingdom of God. It includes the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Weeds, the Mustard Seed and the Leaven parables, the Parable of Hidden Treasure, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Parable of the Net.

The parables of the mustard seed and of the leaven go together. They both compare the Kingdom to something that starts out very small but has an expansive effect.

The point of the mustard seed parable is that this is a very small seed. We have a small bottle of mustard seeds on the shelf in our spice cabinet. I would estimate that one seed is a little larger than the head of a pin.

When this tiny seed is planted and allowed to grow to its full potential, it becomes large enough to house birds’ nests. Elsewhere, the word of God is analogized to a seed that is sown. It isn’t apparent from first observation that something as small and simple as words from a book, the Bible, can become something as significant as a tree that can provide a home and safety to several families of birds. But that is what the Kingdom of God is like. When people hear and obey God’s words, life changes, and his Kingdom becomes a present reality.

The United States is not the Kingdom of God. However, the United States became the greatest nation on earth due to the presence of the Kingdom of God in great measure. The United States has provided more opportunities for peace and prosperity for humanity than any other nation in history. Why? I proffer the idea that it has been because of the presence of the Kingdom of God.

In recent decades, the presence of the Kingdom has diminished, and so has the opportunity for peace and freedom. The seed of the Kingdom, the word of God, is not being honored as it was in generations passed, and we are now reaping the harvest of neglect.

But let us not forget the lesson of the parable. This small seed of the word of the Kingdom can still be sown in our soil. The Kingdom of God can still rise again in the nation. The Kingdom can again grow into a great tree to provide the peace and safety of the Kingdom to many. The success of sowing the word requires that we listen to God, obey God, and share God’s word with others.

The parable of the leaven holds a similar lesson. Leaven, or yeast, is a critical ingredient in bread making. When yeast is activated, it ferments. In bread dough, this fermentation process produces carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 creates bubbles in the dough and causes it to rise. The parable’s point is that yeast added to a large batch of dough will penetrate the entire dough, causing it to rise. The yeast added to the dough appears like a pile of dust on the dough that is then worked into the dough to begin doing its thing. Relative to the size of the batch of dough, the yeast is insignificant.

Lessons from mustard and yeast:

  1. The Kingdom of God begins small, insignificant even. This has been true from the beginning. If we trace the Kingdom to its origins, we wind up just outside the Garden of Eden, where we discover a repentant Adam and Eve, the first to be justified by faith alone. The Kingdom gets narrowed down several times during redemptive history. The flood reduces the Kingdom to one family, that of Noah. Then it is narrowed again when God made a special promise to Abraham, again when God selected Isaac, and again with Jacob. Then it begins to expand through the twelve tribes of Jacob. Not even all of the descendants of Jacob, renamed to Israel, are really the descendants of Abraham, to whom the promise was given. It seems that God keeps whittling down the size of his Kingdom…until Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus. Suddenly the yeast is working. The gospel, the word of God’s promise to Abraham, goes to all nations. The yeast is activated and begins to leaven the whole lump. It is not done yet. There are still many unreached people groups on earth, even some unengaged and unreached people groups. The yeast will keep on working until the whole lump is leavened.
  2. This principle of beginning small applies to all of our personal lives as well. As Jesus followers, we have been called to make disciples of all nations. We have to begin at home in our own neighborhood. When we begin to make disciples, what we do personally seems totally insignificant. Remember the yeast. Make disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples. Eventually, the yeast will leaven the whole lump. Start small and dream big. Don’t be discouraged by the seeming insignificance of your life and ministry. All big things began small. An elephant starts as an egg and sperm joined together.
  3. The key to the effect of the yeast is multiplication. Inside the batch of dough, the yeast is multiplying and expanding throughout the batch until there is no more place for it to go. The same is true of the gospel. We will only complete Jesus’ commandment to make disciples of all nations when we pursue multiplication. No other strategy will accomplish the mission, only multiplication. It is my opinion that no church should invest heavily in any strategy that will not produce the multiplication of disciples. Otherwise, it is poor stewardship of resources.
  4. There is a beautiful prophetic truth in these parables. The mustard seed will become a great tree. The yeast will leaven the whole lump. There is a promise of the completion of the work of the Kingdom. In the final analysis, the completion of the expansion of the Kingdom of God is a work of God. He is responsible for keeping his promises. Fortunately, the completion of the Kingdom is not dependent on our human abilities but on Divine power. We are called to obediently participate in the spread of the good news, that’s for sure. But its effectiveness is produced by the Spirit of God, not our genius. Augustine is known to have said, “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” This also is one of the mysteries of the Kingdom.

No matter how small you believe your contribution to the Kingdom is, it is significant. You are part of the yeast. You are sowing tiny seeds that will grow into large trees. Sometimes this growth is fast, and sometimes it is slow. California Redwood trees don’t become giants overnight, but they do become giants. Trees that grow fast are generally trees with softwood. If I were a tree, I think I would prefer being a tree known as hardwood. They grow slower but stronger.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Revelation 7:9-12