Saturday, December 16, 2023

It's the Little Things - Luke 13:18-21 - December 17, 2023

Luke 13:18-21 It’s the Little Things

Good morning! Turn with me in your Bibles to Luke 13, page 873 in the pew Bibles. This morning we are going to look at verses 18-21, two small parables with some pretty big implications.

Let’s jump right into the text.

Now, if you were with us last week you may remember that Jesus had just healed a crippled lady on the Sabbath in the synagogue. The synagogue ruler got all bent out of shape but was put to shame for his opposition to the kindness of Jesus showed to this poor woman who had been oppressed by a disabling spirit for eighteen years that caused her to be bent over and unable to stand up straight.

I remind you of that context because the verses we are going to look at this morning begin with the word, “therefore.” It’s poor Bible study practice if you begin your study with a “therefore,” and don’t examine what it’s there for.

18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” 20 And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”

Let’s pray.

So here we have two small parables with some pretty big implications, the parable of the mustard seed and a parable about leaven, or yeast, hidden in three measures of flour. I think it’s no accident that these parables are both so short and yet have far reaching implications because that actually the point of both parables.

Unlike a lot of other parables, the disciples of Jesus didn’t ask for any explanation and I think that’s because they got the point and no further exposition was needed. But I am not going to make the assumption that we all get it because that would make for a much shorter sermon…

Let’s start with the mustard seed, what do we know about mustard seeds? They are really small. We actually don’t need to really know anything beyond that, that’s the part that matters, their smallness.

The mustard seed that Jesus was talking about was not where we get our yellow mustard from. Those seeds are from herbs in the Brassica family. (at least according to the internet!) 

The mustard tree that Jesus was talking about was most likely the Salvadora persica, which grows wild throughout the Middle East and Africa. These trees grow to a height of around 25 feet and have inch and a half to three inch long fleshy leaves. Not exactly a white pine but the point is that they grew into pretty big trees from a really tiny seed.

“What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

Though we have to look up pictures of mustard seeds and trees on the internet, Jesus and His first hearers could very well have been looking right at one as they were commonplace in Israel. This was not a foreign picture to them like it might be to us. They would have known what these tiny seeds looked like and what big trees they would grow into.

But Jesus said that the kingdom of God is just like that. But in what way?

Small beginnings with big results.

Since it’s Christmas time let’s not ignore the fact that the Savior of the world came as a tiny baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger. Pretty humble beginnings for the Messiah, just a babe in the straw. 

Even being raised in Nazareth which was known for its lack of significance. Even Nathaniel, one of the Twelve disciples asked the question before he met Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

That nobody from nowhere chose twelve other nobodies and turned the world upside down. Even today, believer or not, Jesus is universally recognized as the most influential person in history. In Genesis 22:18 God promised Abraham that through his offspring all the nations of the world will be blessed. Jesus is that seed of Abraham and he has certainly blessed all the nations of the world.

The kingdom of God started small on the earth, but it also often starts small in the heart. We never know what small thing or series of things the Lord will use to draw people to Himself.

For me personally that tiny seed was a simple bedtime prayer my mom taught me: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray my Lord my soul to keep, watch and guard me through the night and wake me with the morning light.

The Lord used that prayer years later when in some of my darkest days I needed to see His light and he used that prayer to remind me of His great love for me and His desire to have a relationship with me.

But we never know what small thing, what act of kindness, what word fitly spoken the Lord will use.

Babysitting your grandkids and their friends so their moms can go shopping, inviting a friend to camp, or to youth group, praying with somebody that is hurting, investing time and energy to help somebody that needs development, any number of small things can become part of someone’s story of faith in Christ and membership in the kingdom of God.

Small things can have big implications. Alistair Begg said about this text, “The kingdom of God, though very small and apparently insignificant would eventually grow into cosmic proportions… We ought not to feel that our part in kingdom business however lowly and unseen will ever be insignificant… The influence of the kingdom comes from the King, not by man’s method or power.”

The second picture that Jesus uses is that of yeast, or leaven. We’ve talked about leaven here before, and many times it is used in the negative which has caused some scholars to warp the meaning of this passage to try and keep it consistent but Jesus doesn’t use it that way. 

20 And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”

Is Jesus representing leaven to be bad there? No, He is representing it as pervasive and influential.

It takes just a small amount of leaven to have a huge effect on a large quantity of dough and once it’s in there’s no going back, there is no getting rid of it.

This is what the kingdom of God is like, small things having big effects. One little baby, twelve nobodies from nowhere, a word, a song, an act of kindness, an invitation, a simple prayer, can lead to a life renewed and revived.

You may have convinced yourself that nobody ever came to Christ because of a clean toilet, or a well plowed parking lot, but you don’t know that. 

We may never know what effects the small things that we do or have done might have on somebody else, even if it’s somebody we’ll never meet. We may be one of a million little influences that the Lord uses to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

So if I were to give you all one gift this Christmas it would be this simple reminder: you matter. 

The things you do and say, as well as the things you choose to not do or not say, have an effect on others. Those effects could be positive or negative but all can be used by the Father to draw people to Himself through faith in Jesus. You matter for the growth of the kingdom of God.

Don’t forget, the influence of the kingdom comes from her King.

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:5-7,

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Paul also wrote earlier in 1 Corinthians 1:28-31

…consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The kingdom of God starts small on the earth and in the heart, but it is also pervasive and influential both on the earth and in the heart.