This is the way God’s Kingdom grows Matthew 13:31-35

Do you ever feel like giving up in the Christian life? It’s too hard. It’s too much effort. God seems to be blessing other people and never you. God seems to be blessing other churches but never ours.
Some people feel like a failure as a Christian. Other people are succeeding in the Christian life and they aren’t. Other people’s prayers are answered and theirs aren’t. Other people are full of joy but they are weighed down with sorrows and worries and doubts.
The apostle Paul tells us that Christians are “more than conquerors!” But many Christians have times when they feel they are not conquering nor even coping, but barely surviving. Instead of reigning in life” many Christians feel they are not waving but drowning.
Such feelings are normal. But they often come from unrealistic and unbiblical expectations of what being a Christian and church life will be like. This morning we are going to look at three parables which Jesus told which describe “the normal Christian life.” These three parables aren’t often preached about because they give a different picture of life and growth from the ideas many preachers like to proclaim. Three parables about the way God’s kingdom grows.
Matthew 13 31 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’
On the surface here is a parable about spectacular growth. The smallest of seeds becoming the largest of trees. If you have ever grown mustard and cress in a pot on your windowsill it is hard to imagine the tiny seed which grows into that tiny shoot growing into the biggest of trees! But here is the point of the parable. Big things grow from small beginnings. In God’s Kingdom, great things will come – but they come slowly and gradually over a long time! A long, long time!
Today we live in a world of instant everything. We look for rapid results and dramatic growth. We want everything yesterday – but mustard seeds take time!
I read an article which said that trillions are the new billions. Really big amounts of money used to be measured in billions (the American billion of one thousand million). Now people talk casually about trillions of pounds or dollars. Millions of millions. The capacity of hard disk storage in computers used to be measured in Megabytes (millions of pieces of information), then it went up to Gigabytes (billions). Now we have hard disks measured in Terabytes – trillions of pieces of information. So many things in our world are getting bigger and bigger all the time. That is what the world expects.
We live in a world which measures success by size. Big numbers. Lots of money. And popularity – being well known. A world where people pursue celebrity for its own sake. Not being famous for any great or worthwhile achievement. Just being famous. The world of X-factor.
And some Christians expect the same in their Christian lives or in their churches. They expect a story of success and spectacular growth all the time. Everything getting bigger and better every day, always the newest and the best.
The parable of the mustard seed reminds us that in God’s Kingdom success will come. But it will come gradually, imperceptibly, and very, very slowly. Because God measures success not by size, not by big numbers but by holiness, love, and faithfulness. The standard by which God measures success is the sacrifice of the cross.
Some styles of worship portray the Christian life as always successful, always victorious, always big and growing even bigger. The parable of the mustard seed, and others we will look at in a moment, remind us that it isn’t necessarily meant to be that way.
Another parable which I am sure we all know. The Parable of the Sower – or what we could call the parable about the four kinds of soils. That ends triumphantly.
“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Jesus explained what the parable means. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’
Bearing fruit. A hundred, sixty or thirty-fold. That is the part of the parable our success-obsessed world likes to hear. But there is more to the story than the happy ending.
Some preachers say that the parable guarantees growth. The idea that if a church is following God it will always thrive and grow. Some even preach the false message of health, wealth and prosperity which wrongly claims that Christians will always succeed and prosper. But Easter reminds us that the path to glory is through suffering – if you will not bear the cross you will not bear a crown.
The truth is that the history of the church is not full of success stories. When churches and denominations have appeared strong and successful in human terms, they have actually been at their weakest spiritually. It is the blood of the martyrs and the lone voices of the missionary evangelists which has been the seed of the church far more than great preachers and huge congregations. Those Christians who have remained faithful unto death and not given up despite the rocky soil of persecution or the heat or the sun of the temptations of deceitful wealth, as the rest of the parable of the Sower teaches us. The Christian life will ALWAYS be hard!
The Scriptures do not promise the church a a golden age of blessing and success. The prophets and the Scriptures foretell wars and rumours of wars, deceit and betrayal and persecution and suffering and distress and only those who stand firm to the end will be saved – not my words but the words of Jesus in Matthew 24. We have been seeing the beginnings of opposition to the gospel and Christian values in our own society all the time I have been a minister. In these days things are going from bad to worse. But through it all, still God’s Kingdom grows, like a mustard seed.
For two thousand years the church has been seen as a ship, the ark of salvation. Some people seem to think the church is a pleasure cruiser – it’s not. We read this in our sermons on The Armour of God.
Ephesians 6 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
History demonstrated that for the church at Ephesus, success was not going to be about huge numbers and continuous victory. Success would be about just surviving! Some churches are really struggling in these times of Covid. That is not failure. That is just life. Mustard seeds take a long, long, time to grow. This is the way God’s Kingdom grows.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 4) about his own experiences of suffering for Christ he talked about treasure in jars of clay. Carrying around in our body the dying of Christ. Given over to death for Jesus’s sake! ALWAYS. That is what Paul understands to be the normal Christian life, just as much as us being more than conquerors! If the going is tough – don’t be surprised. That’s the way it is always going to be!
The parable of the mustard seed assures us that growth will come, but growth will take a long, long time! Let’s look more briefly at two more parables about how God’s Kingdom grows, which say some similar things.
Matthew 13 33 He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.’
Small things matter – God cares about the little things – even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. The tiny bit of yeast working its way through the whole loaf – that is how the Kingdom grows.
In our second church our next door neighbour was Reverend Winifred Waller. She was a retired Baptist Deaconess who worked all her ministry in small Home Mission aided Baptist churches. Winifred’s favourite verse was
“Do not despise the day of small things.” Zechariah 4:10
Just a simple word of testimony. A random act of kindness, turning the other cheek or going the extra mile. A person praying faithfully privately for years unseen except by God. Jesus says even giving somebody a cup of cold water brings its reward. The parable of the sheep and the goats talks about giving food and drink and shelter and clothing, caring for the sick and visiting the prisoner. Jesus says
Matthew 25 40 ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
A little yeast can change a lot – as long as it is mixed in thoroughly. You may sometimes feel the little things you do don’t matter. The prayers you offer don’t seem to make a difference. Nobody seems to notice. But God DOES notice. Don’t give up just because you don’t see spectacular results!! Don’t be discouraged!! Every little thing we do counts for His Kingdom. “Do not despise the day of small things.” This is the way God’s Kingdom grows.
Mustard seeds and yeast. Then there is one more parable about growth, which Jesus tells in Mark 4 just before the parable of mustard seed.
Mark 4 26 He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces corn—first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 As soon as the corn is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’
The parable of the seed growing secretly. We can’t see things growing. We look for results. We look for growth and we look for fruit. But for much of the life of the plant we can’t see anything – it is growing unseen underground. Then we see small signs, shoots. Slowly day by day the plant grows, but we don’t see the fruit until the very end and then it is time to be busy with the harvest! In a world obsessed with growth and success, Christians need to hold on to the truth of the seed growing secretly.
So don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results in your service for God. In caring for people in need. In sharing your faith with neighbours and friends. In prayers for healing. Don’t be discouraged if you have to be patient and wait – that’s the way it is in God’s kingdom.
And remember – we can’t do anything to make things grow
. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces corn—first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
So it is in the Kingdom of God. There isn’t anything we can do to make things grow quicker. Nothing we do will produce the fruit – it is only God who gives the growth. We can only pray for God to send rain and sun and give growth – that’s why our prayers are essential!
This is the way the Kingdom grows. Only rarely with spectacular success. Usually God’s Kingdom is growing slowly, even sometimes imperceptibly and often unseen. This is the normal Christian life. Hard slog! Hanging on simply to survive. This is the way God’s Kingdom grows. Like a mustard seed. Like yeast. Like a seed growing secretly.

You may also like...

Comments are closed.