Sunday, July 13, 2014

The size and influence of God's Kingdom Matthew 13:31-35

Matthew 13:31a "He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like...."

Yesterday we considered the concept and reality of God's Kingdom in Matthew 13. God's Kingdom has to do with His royal reign in history, the hearts of men and over the church. Jesus Christ is the embodiment and full manifestation of the Kingdom, being that He is the King who mediates His rule over the Kingdom spiritually right now, awaiting the timing of the Father whereby He will return to begin His physical kingdom. In this period of time the Kingdom can be described as an "already/not yet" reality. That is to say, there are realities of God's Kingdom reign that are happening right now and there are other aspects of it that are yet to come. 

Certainly the Kingdom of God can be a very abstract concept to every Christ follower living in this 21st century world where there is digital everything, terrorism, war, famine, disease and suffering. Jesus' choice of communication in Matthew 13 is by way of parables. Parables take us on a journey from what is known to unknown.  To explain the immensity of the Kingdom and its influence, Jesus takes his listeners and us to a garden and then a woman's home.

Point of Application:
When we consider the powerful message being communicated by Jesus in these two parables, here is what we realize: The Gospel of the Kingdom as unlimited potential in whom it can affect.

The immensity of the Kingdom
Matthew 13:31-32 reads - "He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; 32 and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” Simon Kistemaker points out in his book "The Parables", page 53, that Jesus is alluding to Old Testament passages such as Daniel 4:12; Ezekiel 17:23 and 31:26 in the telling of the parable.  Whether we are referring to a pagan king's kingdom like Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon in Daniel or Israel itself in Ezekiel's passage, both have in common the fact that they were established and owed their existence to the Sovereignty of God. We won't go into all the history of each, but both started out small: Babylon beginning as a tower in Genesis 11 and Israel coming forth from Abram in Genesis 12. 

But way beyond those allusions, Jesus' whole point is to demonstrate that we cannot judge the effectiveness nor size of the Kingdom by the way it appears now. Simon Kistemaker comments: "The tree has not yet reached maturity; it is still growing. We look at the phenomenon of the growing tree and know that God is at work developing His kingdom." Certainly now the Kingdom of God is expanding through the evangelization efforts of the church.  Even when Jesus returns and sets up His earthly Kingdom, no doubt the Kingdom will enter into a new stage - a visible Kingdom stage.  However it will not reach its full bloom until the final judgment, when Christ hands over the Kingdom to the Father and the glory of God covers the heavens and the earth and all things are made new. (Habakkuk 2:14; 1 Corinthians 15:23-28; Revelation 21-22). 

The influence of the Kingdom
Matthew 13:33 "He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” Now Jesus moves from the garden to a woman's home.  The mustard plant becomes the largest plant in a garden, despite the fact it's seed form is comparatively insignificantly small. In His second parable here, the parable of the leaven, Jesus compares the Kingdom to a woman making bread. 

The concept of leaven has to do with taking a piece of fermented dough, like sour dough bread, and adding it to a flour mixture until that mixture too was affected and began to rise. When we lived in Pennsylvania, we had what was called "friendship bread" which was similar in thought to what Jesus is communicating. Someone would pinch off a piece of the dough of friendship bread "called a starter" they had and give it to you.  That starter would then require you adding certain things to it in a plastic bag over a period of ten days.  Over that time period, the bread would grow in size and then on the tenth day, you would pinch off a portion and bake the rest.  Then as an act of "friendship", you would pass on the portion to someone else to start the whole cycle once again. 

Whenever a leavened piece of bread was placed in a flour mixture in ancient Israel, a typical batch would yield enough to feed dozens of people.  Such leavening techniques were used by the Jews for centuries. Jesus' useage of this idea would had been immediately familiar to his listeners.  

The Kingdom of God has more influence and pull than we realize. We so often operate in the visible realm, not factoring in the fact that God is Sovereign and that His kingdom influence ranges far beyond the immediate moment.  In relating both the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven (or yeast), Simon Kistemaker notes:  "In the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus makes known the extent and outward spread of the Kingdom. In the parable of the yeast, Jesus focuses attention on the internal power of the kingdom that leaves nothing unaffected.

Closing thoughts
When we consider the powerful message being communicated by Jesus in these two parables, here is what we realize: The Gospel of the Kingdom as unlimited potential in whom it can affect. No matter how difficult things may get, no matter how slow things may move at a given time and no matter how seemingly small the outcomes of current efforts, God's Sovereign Kingdom agenda will prevail and those whom He looks to affect for the purpose of believing on Him as their Savior and Lord will be accomplished. The Gospel is so worth it, because Jesus is. May we be ever faithful in telling as many people as possible about Jesus Christ.