³¹He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; ³²and 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.”
³³He 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.”
³⁴All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable.
³⁵This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.”
These parables illustrate the worldwide growth and influence of the kingdom of heaven. It might not be wonderful that a peasant living in remote Syrian highlands should have dared to predict such a vast future for his work if he were only speaking in the enthusiasm of hope; but it is the wonder of the ages that the Galilaean predictions have been verified by history, which has proved that the Speaker uttered true words and was able to realize what he foretold.
Let us consider the prophecy in the light of its fulfilment.
The two parables set forth two different phases of the extension of the kingdom.
I. THE VISIBLE GROWTH OF THE KINGDOM ITSELF.
1. It appears in a small beginning.
Christ gathered about him a little group of fishermen; there was the kingdom, but as yet a minute seed. How many of the best movements spring from small beginnings – the river from the brook, the man from the child, the city from the hamlet, the empire from the city! History forbids us to despise the day of small things. It is better to begin obscurely and grow, than to commence with a flourish of trumpets, raising expectations which we may not be able to fulfil.
2. It contains a centre of life.
The pebble will not grow. Multitudes of small ventures are destined to remain small or to fade away altogether. It is only the vital seed that grows. There is a life-principle in Christianity. Christ himself is in it.
3. It has a great development.
The mustard seed becomes a tree. The little group of disciples becomes a world wide Church. Christ has large aims, and he accomplishes them. He has not yet seen the full growth of the seed he sowed. Christianity is still spreading – spreading in heathen lands as in no previous age; it has in it vitality enough to fill the whole world.
4. Its growth is beneficial to the world.
The kingdom of heaven is not a deadly Upas tree; it does not destroy all other Jives in fostering its own life. The mustard tree furnishes night shelter for the birds; the kingdom of heaven is a great refuge for helpless, benighted souls.
II. THE INVISIBLE INFLUENCE OF THE KINGDOM.
It works like leaven in a mass of meal.
1. It spreads through the world.
The gospel has a marvellous penetrating influence.
Early Christianity extended itself without any organized method of propagation, reaching all classes of society and touching remotest regions. There is a happy infection in Christian truth. A saintly example is healthily contagious.
2. It influences the world.
The whole mass of meal is leavened.
Christ gives us a leaven of society, not merely a new life to be in society and to spread itself, growing and multiplying, but a transforming and uplifting influence.
Left to itself the world is dead. The gospel comes as a ferment, breaking up the old lethargy and rousing fresh activity. It affects every part of life, and whatever it affects it assimilates to itself.
We are not to think of the kingdom of heaven standing aloof from the world, which is to be let lie in its own deadness. It is sent into the world that it may benefit the world. Plunged into the midst of society, it works for the benefit of society.
Commerce, science, literature, art, politics, social order, and domestic life are all sought out by the Christian spirit, and as they come under its influence they are purified and quickened.
Seeing that the influences of the gospel are destined to be so widespread and manifold, it becomes us not to cramp them by any narrowness of our own, but rather to further them with courageous hopefulness.
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