The Growth of the Gospel
The Growth of the Gospel
“This is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is fully grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree.”
The parable of the Mustard seed and the parable of the leaven are two parables that point to the same essential truth. In God’s economy and outworking of the gospel, that which is small and insignificant grows into that which is enormous and all-encompassing.
The mustard seed appears as a tiny seed that seems inconsequential to the casual observer. Yet when it is planted, it grows to a plant that is far beyond what one would expect. But to further emphasize his point, this seed grows into a large tree, so large that all the birds of the air can come and nest in its branches.
The second parable, that of the leaven, conveys the same truth. Commentators have debated the amount of three measures of flour. Some have suggested that it refers to the amount that would feed a large family, while others have suggested that it would feed a hundred people. Whatever the exact amount, the point is clear. A small amount of leaven can penetrate and ferment a large amount of dough.
These parables point to a simple truth: the kingdom Christ came to inaugurate would start as a small, insignificant program but eventually encompass the world. When Christ concluded his ministry, from the standpoint of the world, it appeared as a failure, even to those who had been his followers. When the disciples first started following Christ, they expected him to inaugurate a kingdom that would overthrow the mighty kingdom of Rome. They expected the nation of Israel to rally around Jesus and become the next world powerhouse. To their chagrin, instead of a significant following, at the end of Jesus’ life, they were nothing more than a small group of people whose hopes were dashed and who thought the kingdom of God had died on the vine. Yet, this small group would start a ministry that would ultimately transform the world and penetrate every known corner of the planet.
In this parable, we find several vital applications regarding the nature of the kingdom that Christ came to establish. First, the kingdom Christ came to establish through the church will continue to grow and flourish no matter how much resistance it may face. From the small band of believers who formed the first church, God has reached and continues to reach the world with the hope of the gospel. As Christ predicted, even the gates of hell itself will not be able to resist the growth and movement of his kingdom through the church. Today, each follower of Jesus is evidence of the power of God’s redemptive program. Furthermore, he is continuing to build his church through us. As we share the gospel, we are part of the fulfillment of this prophetic proclamation.
Second, the parable reminds us of the work God is doing through each of us. No matter how small the church is, no matter how small the ministry, it has the power to accomplish significant growth in God’s kingdom. As a small church pastor, it is easy to focus on our smallness and the few numbers we have each Sunday compared to the mega-churches, which gain recognition for their growth and size. But these parables remind us that God delights in taking the small to accomplish the significant and the eternal. He can the smallness of our ministry and use it to impact future generations.
Last, the parable reminds us of the nature of the gospel's work. In Matthew 17:20, in words that echo these parables, Jesus likes our faith as a mustard seed, but that simple faith can lead to the transformation of mountains. When we accept Christ, it is through a simple act of faith, a mental and spiritual acceptance that Christ died to save us from our sins. Like the mustard seed that grows into a tree and a tiny bit of leaven that penetrates the whole lump, so the tiny seed of faith implanted in our soul penetrates our whole life and leads to a complete transformation of our lives. God can take the simple faith and transform us for all eternity. Such is the power of the gospel. No matter how overwhelming our struggles through the acceptance of the gospel, our whole life can be changed and transformed into a vibrant testimony of God’s redemptive work.