At one point during His earthly ministry, Jesus asked a rhetorical question. “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). There are many Christians who believe the answer to be, “No. The Lord will not find faith on the earth.” One reason for this dark and pessimistic view of the future is a firm belief, endlessly taught for over a hundred years by Dispensational ministers, professors, and Sunday teachers, that the Church is an apostate organization which is doomed for failure. Among the advocates of this unworthy view of the Church and Christianity was Dr. S. Lewis Johnson. In his sermon on the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Dr. Johnson had this to say.
“Christianity has grown. It’s had an abnormal growth from that small beginning in the manger in Bethlehem, and the twelve apostles, and the few scattered Christian believers—it’s become a worldwide phenomenon. A great religion. But all of this shall ultimately reach its climax in the man of sin, the antichrist, who shall arise and proclaim the lie, shall set up the image to himself in the temple, and call upon the whole of the earth to worship him. The birds of the air shall come and nest in the branches of the mustard tree. What a beautiful picture. A beautiful picture of just exactly what has been happening. A great prophecy attesting to the deity of our Lord Jesus.”
A” beautiful picture?” No, this is not a beautiful picture of the future. It does not encourage or inspire hope in a better tomorrow, and so misses the glorious message Jesus taught His disciples when the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven being something majestic and glorious was on His heart. Consider afresh the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
AN EXPOSITION OF MATTHEW 13:31-32
31 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: 32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
Concerning the kingdom of heaven, Jesus likens it to a grain of mustard seed. The mustard seed is a very tiny seed, but it has intrinsic potential and power to grow into a strong and sturdy bush. A principle is established. We must not despise small beginnings in the Church. Whatever ministry God has entrusted to someone must be respected and honored. Every kingdom work done for God, no matter how small, has the intrinsic potential and power of becoming something mighty, to the glory of the Lord.
Edward Kimball was a humble Sunday School teacher in Boston. One day in 1858, he was led by the Spirit to witness to a shoe clerk who gave his life to Jesus. That young clerk was D. L. Moody. “Dwight L. Moody, became an evangelist. In England in 1879, he awakened evangelistic zeal in the heart of Frederick B. Meyer, pastor of a small church. F. B. Meyer, preaching to an American college campus, brought to Christ a student named J. Wilbur Chapman. Chapman, engaged in YMCA work, employed a former baseball player, Billy Sunday, to do evangelistic work.
Billy Sunday held a revival in Charlotte, N.C. A group of local men were so enthusiastic afterward that they planned another evangelistic campaign, bringing Mordecai Hamm to town to preach. During Hamm’s revival, a young man named Billy Graham heard the Gospel and yielded his life to Christ” (Source Unknown).
Here then, is an incentive to do anything and everything to advance the kingdom of heaven, no matter how humble the work is the Lord has entrusted to your care. Christian, your labor will not be in vain. The work will grow. Many birds of the air will come and lodge in the branches of the mustard tree, meaning, many souls will be blessed, and find security in the kingdom of heaven.
There is no reason to believe that “the birds of the air” refer to the black birds of Satan, as in Matthew 13:4. Though there is much error and heresy in the Church, not all birds do harm. Noah sent forth a dove, which returned with an olive branch in its beak, a sign of life and peace (Gen. 8:11). A dove settled on the head of Jesus at His baptism, a sign of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:16). The person who trusts in the Lord shall “mount up with wings as eagles” (Isa. 40:31). Christians are to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Let there be peace in the kingdom of heaven.
When Jesus said the mustard seed was the “least of all seeds”, He was referring to horticulture in the Land of Palestine, for science tells us the black mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds. Critics of the Bible who would diminish the veracity of Christ, must look elsewhere for error in Scripture, in which there is none.
Moreover, what Jesus taught in the parable came to pass. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven would initially be viewed as something small and insignificant, but it would have astonishing growth to become a source of blessing and comfort to many. Indeed, the King of the Kingdom was born in a barn and laid in a manger. Surely, that was a small beginning. Then the King choose ordinary men to be His disciples. But then these ordinary men did something extraordinary by the power of God. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). And the kingdom grew, and continues to grow today.
The Kingdom of Heaven: Like unto Leaven
AN EXPOSITION OF MATTHEW 13:33
33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
An optimistic understanding of this parable is that the Kingdom of Heaven will continue to grow until all the kingdoms of this earth have become the kingdoms of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Rev. 11:15).
Even if that view is deemed too optimistic, there is no need to go to the other extreme and view the Kingdom of Leaven as becoming so corrupt it fills the whole earth. This would be an unworthy view of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The woman in the parable is presented as doing a good work. Therefore, she is not necessarily a symbol of religious corruption, like the Great Whore of Revelation 17:1-18.
There are many women of virtue in the Bible, such as Mary, JoAnne, and Chloe (Luke 1:38; Luke 8:3, 1 Cor. 1:11), as well as women of immeasurable evil, reflected in the lives of Delilah and Queen Jezebel (Judges 16:19; Rev. 2:20). Care must be taken not to read into Scripture more than is warranted.
The meal which the woman worked with is the good seed of the gospel concerning the ruin of man, the redemption that is found in Christ Jesus, and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.
The leaven of the parable need not be viewed as evil, for leaven is used as a symbol of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Hebrew word, seor (Ex. 12:15, 19; 13:7), and the Greek word (zume), refers to something fermented (as if boiling up). Leaven (yeast) has a hidden, penetrating, and transforming power, as does the gospel in the hearts of individuals, and in the world.
It is true that leaven is used as a figure of corruption and the perverseness of heart and life (Matt. 16:6, 11; Mark 8:15; 1 Cor. 5:7, 8).
It is also true that two exceptions were made to the general prohibition not to include leaven in the various offerings to the Lord (Ex. 12:15 etc.). Those two exceptions are noted in Leviticus 7:13 and Amos 4:5).
The larger point to remember is that the Lord is sovereign over every facet of His creation. He can, and will, use anything, and everything, to bring glory to Himself (Rom. 8:28ff).
Now a Word about The Purpose of Parables
34 All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: 35 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
The quotation is taken from Psalm 78. “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: 3 Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.” The sense of these prophetic words of Asaph are given, not the exacts words of the Psalm.
The parables Jesus told were given as a form of judgment on those who rejected Him and His ministry. Those who do not want to know the truth about the Lod shall have it concealed from them.
The parables Jesus told were also designed to be a form of blessing to those who received Him, and believed in His message. To them would be given the ability to understand spiritual truth.
The parables Jesus told were derived from familiar features in everyday life. The people of Palestine understood farming, fishing, the planting of trees, and the baking of bread. When the gospel is preached, when the Bible is taught, it must be communicated in such a way that the common people can understand.
The parables Jesus told were designed to encourage the disciples of a better tomorrow, not to depress them with words about apostasy and the failure of the Kingdom of Heaven. Christians are still the “salt of the earth” and the earth is till the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.
“Have faith in God when your pathway is lonely.
He sees and knows all the way you have trod.
Never alone are the least of His children.
Have faith in God, have faith in God.
Have faith in God, He’s on His throne.
Have faith in God, He watches ‘oer his own.
He cannot fail, He must prevail,
Have faith in God, have faith in God.
Have faith in God when you pray’rs are unanswered.
Your earnest plea He will never forget.
Wait on the Lord, trust His Word and be patient,
Have faith in God, He’ll answer yet.
Have faith in God in your pain and your sorrow.
His heart is touched with your grief and despair.
Cast all your cares and your burdens upon Him,
And leave them there, oh, leave them there.
Have faith in God tho’ all else fail about you.
Have faith in God He provides for His own.
He cannot fail tho’ all kingdoms shall perish,
He rules He reigns upon His throne.”
B. B. McKinney