Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Growing God’s Kingdom

Luke 13 (also Matthew 13)

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

18 Then He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches."

[This is one of those parables that drives the skeptics crazy, because it is a paradox, and they don't understand it, so their interpretation concludes that the information provided is false. In Matthew's account of this passage it says the mustard seed is the "least of all the seeds", so the skeptic says the mustard seed is not the smallest seed, there are a few plants with smaller seeds. The Greek word rendered smallest is "mikros" which means really really small, like in the word microscope. And as we learned in the parable of the sower, that seed is the Word of God. So a retranslation of Matthew would say "The mustard is small among seeds, but great "meizon" among herbs when it is grown", which is the absolute literal truth.


Now the second part is even harder, because Luke says the mustard grew and became a great tree, Matthew just says it became a tree bigger than the other herbs. The skeptic will say the mustard is a garden plant not a tree, so the passage is completely false. Well it turns out the mustard plant is one of the most prolific plants in that part of the world. There are over 100 varieties of mustard plant, ranging from big leafed garden plants where you would get mustard greens, to 30 foot tall trees, and what they all have in common are those little bitty seeds. Now the most common mustard in that part of the world would grow up to 12 feet tall, most of that in one year. The Greek word for grow is auzano (owx-an'-o) which means to give increase, and the Greek word for great is "megas" which means great, exceeding, or strong. So here's the thing about the wild mustard common in the Mediterranean, it grows like a weed. You can't plant just one mustard plant, because even if you do it will quickly become many and take over your whole garden. So the greatness of the mustard plant is not in how large one tree grows, but in how quickly one tree becomes many. And that is exactly how the kingdom of God has increased on the earth.

  • At the time of Christ's ascension he had about 500 followers
  • On the day of Pentecost that number increased to about 3,000
  • By 100 AD there were about 7,500 Christians in the Roman Empire
  • By 250 AD there were 1.1 million Christians
  • By 312 AD Rome had 9 million Christians, and in 313 Constantine ended the persecution of the Christians faith in Rome. Followers of Jesus had grown from zero to nine million during 300 years when your faith in Christ could easily get you put in prison, beaten, and killed.
  • In 325 AD Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire
  • By 350 AD 52% of the Roman Empire was Christian, about 32 million people
  • Today 1/3 of the World's population, over 2 billion people, say they are Christian

The kingdom of God grew just like a mustard seed.


Ok, so you have the first two parts of the paradox but what about the last. The branches of a wild mustard tree are very wispy, they bend easily, and they are not the stable platform a bird would pick to build a nest in. So again this parable seems flawed, because the kind of mustard you might plant in the garden is not the same variety that becomes a 30 foot heavy wooded tree. So how do birds nest in those wispy branches? I read the blog of a North African Missionary who said he never understood this parable, because he saw lots of wild mustard trees but no bird nests in them. One day he walked outside and on his porch and saw a few leaves and flowers from a mustard plant, and this scene repeated over the next few days. Then finally he saw a birds nest above one of the beams of his porch, and looking close he saw the nest was made of the leaves and branches of a mustard tree. You see even though the mustard tree might make a poor platform for a bird nest, the thin branches and leaves provide excellent material for making a nest, and that is exactly what the parable says "the birds of the air nested in its branches".


So who are these birds who nest in the branches taken from the mustard tree? I believe these represent false teachers who would take from God's kingdom to build up their own. People who take the popularity of Jesus Christ, and twist little bits his Word into another gospel, they use to draw away part of the Church, enrich themselves, and promote social and political agendas which bear little resemblance to the Apostles Doctrine. In fact in Matthew's Gospel this parable is sandwiched between the "Parable of the Tares" and the explanation of that parable, where he says that the tares are the "sons of the wicked one", that the devil mixes in with the children of God. It is also consistent with the parable of the Sower, where the birds are sent by Satan to take away the seeds which are the Word of God. That is the longest explanation of two verses I have ever taught. But that's ok we only have about a dozen more verses to go.]

The Parable of the Leaven

20 And again He said, "To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."

[The common leaven here is yeast, a fungus which leavens by consuming sugar or carbohydrates and releases carbon dioxide. The CO2 gets trapped in little bubbles within the bread doe and causes it to rise. Now once yeast is activated, it is worked into the bread and allowed to rise. Then the doe has to be kneaded again to work the leaven into more of the doe, and then wait while it rises again, and you repeat this two or three times until the whole lump of doe has risen with the gas from the yeast. The commentary says this was about 50 pounds of meal so it would take a lot of kneading to get the yeast worked into that lump. Unless the whole lump is exposed to the leaven the loaf will not rise and cook evenly, part would bake flat and hard and not very desirable.


You can do the same thing in some recipes with baking soda and baking powder, which react chemically with the other ingredients to make CO2 and cause the doe to rise. I remember once Tonia was baking a cake which used baking powder, but her baking powder was too old, and had become inactive so that it made no CO2, so the cake never rose, and was ruined.


I think this parable is teaching of the spiritual growth in the life of a believer as the Spirit of God slowly changes each area of your life to make you pleasing to God. Sadly there are preachers who profess an unconverted form of Christianity which says that your belief in God does not need to change your life, God loves you just the way you are, what you do in your body doesn't matter as long as you believe. But the Bible tells a different story.

  • Romans 12:2 says to be "be transformed by the renewing of your mind"
  • I Peter 2:2 says to "desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby"
  • Ephesians 4:1 says "to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called"
  • Philippians 4:9 says "The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do"
  • II Corinthians 3:17 says we like Christ "are being transformed into the same image from glory"
  • II Corinthians 4:16 says "the inward man is being renewed day by day"
  • Luke 3:8 says we are to "bear fruits worthy of repentance"
  • I Corinthians 6:9-10 lists all kinds of sexual sins saying those who do them would not inherit the kingdom of God, then verse 11 says "And such were some of you. But you were washed"

We have a transforming salvation, that gives you a genuine love for God and his people, while making us disgusted by sin especially our own. Salvation that does not change you is no salvation at all, according to the Bible.

The Narrow Way

22 And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few who are saved?"
And He said to them, 24 "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open for us,' and He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know you, where you are from,' 26 then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.' 27 But He will say, 'I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.' 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. 29 They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last."

[In Matthew 24 Jesus said that in the last days false teachers would arise and deceive many. I see today that false teachers are already among us. And they turn people from the narrow way. Through them people seek, materialism, social tolerance, world peace, a greener planet, whiter teeth, fresher breath, and anything else you can think of other than God. But mostly they want someone to tell them that their sin is not a problem, God understands. But those who follow false teaching have a future filled with "weeping and gnashing of teeth".]

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