31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” 34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
I used to pastor in a city that has within it a very famous Southern Baptist megachurch. This place was huge…as in huge! I pastored a small church just out of seminary about one mile from this church. The pastor of this church was nothing but kind to me and they had, by all accounts, a strong and vibrant ministry.
Across the street from this church was a very small house church. It was basically a house with a little steeple on it. It was literally across the street and, when you drove between the two—the megachurch on one side and the little tiny church on the other—you could not help but take note of the contrast.
One day the megachurch had a conference for pastors. I did not go but a friend of mine did. The visiting speaker (not, I hasten to add, the megachurch’s pastor) decided to make a point about success. “Look at this amazing church we are in!” he said. “Look at how God has blessed this church! Look at the thousands of people who come here each week! Look at the countless teams of missionaries that go out from this church to reach the world! Look at the reach and influence of this church!” Then he paused and continued: “And then look across the street at that other church. It is small. It is tiny.” He continued to point out the difference.
In the middle of his words a person stood up near the front of the church, turned, and walked out. It was the little church’s pastor. I was not even there and I still cringe to think of this! How embarrassing…for the speaker! How shortsighted! How foolish! How very, very wrong!
In Matthew 13:31-35 Jesus tells two brief parables, both of which honor the small and the seemingly insignificant…both of which tell of the great things God is able to accomplish through humble things.
The Kingdom of Heaven is greater than its humble beginnings would seem to suggest.
The first parable has to do with something very small indeed becoming something quite profound.
31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
Mustard seeds are indeed small. I was once on a mission trip in Honduras and, while there, we came across a farmer. The translator began to talk with this gentleman then explained to us that he was carrying mustard seed. I asked him if I could have some. They were indeed unbelievably tiny little seeds! I determined to bring some home with me before it was pointed out to me that, were Customs to discover me bringing agricultural products from Honduras into the States, they would not be pleased! But I do remember how impressively diminutive they were!
Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like this. It appears humble, small, and, to the world, insignificant. And yet, it grows “larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree.” The ESV Study Bible observes that while the mustard seed “was the smallest of all agricultural seeds in Palestine” it becomes a tree that “grows to a height of 8 to 12 feet (2.4 to 3.7 m).” One 2nd century Rabbi, “Simeon ben Halafta…asserts that he climbed a mustard bush that was as tall as a fig tree…”
This is impressive to be sure!
On one level this can be read as a commentary and prophecy on the global expansion of Christianity. The church that started so very small would soon spread all around the globe. Indeed, there is a miraculous quality about it. That this movement would begin with such humble origins, twelve disciples, and then spread around the world despite persecutions and various efforts to suppress it is a testimony to the goodness of God! I often think that we do not marvel enough at the amazing fact that Christianity reached Arkansas. Just think of it: from Palestine to Asia Minor and then on to the East and to Europe in the West, then, in time, across the Atlantic to the Americas. And then, eventually, into Arkansas! How amazing! How unbelievable! The mustard seed faith has indeed become a tree and the “the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” It has attracted the nations: old and young, rich and poor, the weak and the strong, from all nations and peoples of the earth!
On another level the parable may be seen as a statement about the incarnation itself. Jesus comes lowly: a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. Jesus comes small, meek, humbly. And yet, the mustard seed that is Christ will be acknowledged as the God of Heaven and earth in due time!
Do not disparage the small.
Do not dismiss the insignificant.
Do not laugh at the improbably tiny.
In the hands of God it can become great indeed…in the economy of the Kingdom if not in the understanding of the world.
The Kingdom of Heaven is more powerful than its humble beginnings would seem to suggest.
We must not sneer at the size of the Kingdom’s manifestations in the world. We must not overlook the latent power and potency of the Kingdom that comes lowly and humbly.
33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
This is a most interesting parable. It is likely the only time in which leaven is used in a positive sense in the New Testament. In the parable, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a little bit of leaven that is put into a great deal of flour and, as a result, leavens all of it!
Frederick Bruner notes that the amount of bread produced here “is ridiculously large—about thirty-nine liters, enough to feed about forty people three meals a day for several days.” “The image of a pinch of yeast permeating 50 pounds of dough parallels the great impact the kingdom would have despite its small beginnings,” observes the HCSB Study Bible. Craig Blomberg writes that “‘Large amount’ reads, literally, three satas (variously estimated at twenty to forty-five liters), which could feed well over one hundred people.” And Frank Stagg observes that “[t]hree measures of meal would make about four and a half bushels, or about 40 to 50 pounds of bread.”
This is amazing! The power of leaven is noted in a negative sense in 1 Corinthians 5 when Paul warns the Corinthian Christians about the corrosive effects of sin in the church if left unchecked.
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
But positively this is also true: “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.”
The Kingdom of God, while seemingly small, has power and potency. It can change the whole world! The most obvious manifestation of the Kingdom in the world is the church, though I hasten to add again that the Kingdom is bigger than the church. But God working through the church, the body of Christ, can accomplish amazing things indeed! The world has seen it happen! Historian Larry Hurtado writes:
From our earliest sources, it is clear that at a very early point the movement that became “Christianity” practically exploded trans-locally, and continued this geographical spread all through the early centuries…
As Robin Lane Fox observed, “no other cult in the Empire grew at anything like the same speed…”
In comparison with the many other religious groups of the time, this was, to say the least, unusual. Indeed, although historians are often loathe to use the term, we probably have to say it was unique. For there simply is no new religious group of the time that had the same growth sustained over such a long time.
And with the geographical expansion of Christianity the fruit of its revolutionary character also spread: benevolence, care for the poor, orphan care, the “adoption” of discarded babies, hospitals, in time, universities, a philosophical revolutionary, and the spiritual liberation of masses of humanity.
The mustard seed movement has changed the world forever!
The leaven of the Kingdom has leavened the whole loaf and the bread of the gospel is being offered to the nations.
No, do not despise the small, the tiny, the insignificant. In the hands of our great God they are anything but!
 Crossway Bibles. ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 118246-118248). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.
 Michael J. Wilkins, “Matthew.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Gen. Ed., Clinton E. Arnold. Vol.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.86.
 Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew. Vol.2. Revised & Expanded Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), p.34.
 Holman Bible Editorial Staff, Holman Bible Editorial Staff. HCSB Study Bible (Kindle Locations 134163-134164). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Blomberg, Craig L.. Matthew (The New American Commentary) (p. 220). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Frank Stagg, “Matthew.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Gen. ed., Clifton J. Allen. Vol.8 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1969), p.157.
 Larry W. Hurtado, Why On Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries? (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2016), p.20n.12/19/29/30-31/45.