Today I want to talk to you about The Parables of Mustard Seed and Yeast
My Scripture Text is from Matthew 13.31-35
‘Great oaks from little acorns grow.’ I am sure you have heard that saying before and I am also pretty sure many, if not all, of you fully understand what it means. From humble, small, insignificant beginnings great things can grow and materialize in this world – hence great oak trees many hundreds of years old and reaching to the skies began life like this, an acorn. An acorn which dropped from an oak tree and was buried in the ground, hidden and unseen by human eyes until one day a small shoot sprang up and over many years a tall, strong, majestic oak has grown.
Remember the context in which Christ is speaking and remember the context into which Matthew is writing his gospel of Christ. For Christ there are a small band of genuine followers. He has just been rejected by the religious leaders of the day and has begun his public teaching ministry out in the open air. He has begun to turn his back on Galilee and to turn towards Jerusalem where he will be crucified and rise again. Matthew is writing his gospel of Christ to a small persecuted fledgling church, mainly of Jewish believers. To this small, insignificant at least to the Roman world around, Matthew recounts these words of Christ as a means of encouragement.
Let’s talk first about the tiny Mustard Seed
At the time of Christ to say something was the size of a mustard seed was to say it was no great significance, that it was very small indeed. It was a common proverbial saying of the day. No doubt to the followers of Christ the church did indeed seem small and insignificant – certainly if you measured it against the might of the Roman Empire or the edifices of Judaism or some of the pagan cults of the day. In answer to the question: Why is the kingdom of God so insignificant? Matthew reminds his hearers of these two sayings or parables of Christ.
A mustard seed is indeed microscopic and yet when it is fully grown it grows into a plant that is some 4 meters in height. Compared to the seed from which it grew that is phenomenal growth. Yes to the world around the figure of Christ and his followers might indeed seem small and insignificant – they appear as a mustard seed, the weak things of this world. Zechariah 4.10 says we are not to despise the days of small things. And it may well be that the followers to whom Matthew writes were indeed like the lambs described in Isaiah 40.11 – that needed to be carried around close the heart of the shepherd for protection and warmth because of their frailty at that moment. Yet, despite of all of this there is growth going on and in time the growth would be phenomenal. Even though the mustard seed is small, it is still a seed. A seed full of potential to grow into a 4 meter tall plant to which the birds of the air would flock to roost in the shade of its branches. To those listening to Christ or hearing the reading of Matthew’s gospel this picture of birds coming to roost in the branches of this tree would have jarred with them. Birds in the OT, especially in Ezekiel 17.23 and Daniel 4.20-22, spoke of the Gentile nations. Jesus is hinting that not only will this little seed grow to a remarkable size but that its branches will spread beyond the narrow confines of Judaism and provide a home for the Gentiles. Here Christ speaks of the spread of the kingdom of God beyond the Jewish people to the Gentile nations. Please note they come to the tree to roost – that is they come to Christ and in him alone they find salvation and rest.
It is a seed whose purpose and disposition is to grow and given the right conditions it will grow into the greatest of all garden herbs. It will grow and it will mature and it will amaze with its strength – beyond all expectations of what was thought possible when that little mustard seed was in their hands. At present the seed looks small and insignificant, just as the kingdom of God looks small and insignificant. But it will not stay that way. Remember…..Significance is not measured in numbers or size.
Now let’s talk about The Yeast.
Leaven had a bad press in Judaism. All leaven had to be scrupulously removed from a house before the Passover could be celebrated. So Jesus’ hearers would have been surprised to hear him liken the kingdom of God to leaven. Maybe, just maybe, that is how the followers of Christ were viewed by the Jewish religious leaders and people of the day – like leaven that had to be removed from the house. After all his disciples were uneducated fishermen, tax collectors, etc. and he freely associated in their eyes with drunkards and sinners, not to mention prostitutes whom he allowed to wash his feet, and worst of all he had women amongst his disciples, something no self-respecting rabbi would have done. So maybe leaven wasn’t really such a surprise after all. Christ tells them that a woman took the leaven and mixed it into a large amount of flour. In the original it says into three measures of flour – that would be the equivalent of 40 kg of flour, enough to feed around 100 people. This is no ordinary amount of flour but industrial amounts of flour. The amount of flour is in contrast to the amount of yeast. Yet without the yeast the making of the bread would not happen. The small amount of yeast is hidden or kneaded into the flour and it permeates right through the lot. It transforms the whole dough. It is this transforming act that Christ wishes to emphasize to his hearers – hence he says the ‘woman hid the yeast in the dough.’ It works unseen to the human eye and out of all proportion to its size, especially in relation to the amount of flour into which it is hidden. Jesus here reminds them that the work of the kingdom of God in their lives and the life of their community often goes on unseen by human eyes and that God, since the start of creation, has been work his yeast into the dough of this world. One day it will become apparent in my life, your life and the life of this community.
You know if you put yeast into un-ground wheat it has no effect at all – there must be flour, water and yeast for the transformation to take place. The gospel (yeast) similarly will have no spiritual affect whatsoever in the life of one whose heart has not been broken or humbled by and before God. Also the dough needs to be kneaded, moistened and the yeast worked into every area of the dough to have the maximum affect. The same is true if the kingdom of God is to come to full fruition in your life and mine. The word of God must be worked into every area of our lives so that the leaven of the gospel can have affect in every area and not be limited to a few areas. When the woman hides the leaven in the heart of the flour it is with intention – that it might transform the dough. The same is true of the gospel – we hide it in our hearts with intention – not for secrecy but for transformation purposes. Thus when the gospel comes into our hearts it works a change, not in the substance of the heart, the dough remains the same, but in the quality - it makes us to savor things we would have before rejected or ignored. It works throughout all areas of our life and transforms that which it touches. The change is such that it makes the soul partake of the word just as the dough partakes of the leaven. Just as the leaven transforms the dough unseen, secretly but with lasting affect so the gospel by grace does the same to our lives. It changes, transforms us to take on the likeness of Christ just as the flour is transformed by the yeast.
So in each of these, the mustard seed and the yeast, Jesus wants his hearers to understand the significance of that which the world views as insignificant. He wants them to understand the paradox of the insignificant or hidden beginnings and a triumphant climax. Jesus is impressing on them that the mustard seed has been planted and the yeast mixed into the dough and the transformation is going on, even if they and the world fail to see it. No matter how unpromising it looks and despite the opposition it will face the transformation will come to pass. Little is great where God is at work.
The greatest thing is that For us the lessons are simple.
Do not despise the day of small things. We should not despise the small things in our lives or in the lives of others. Numbers are no measure of success in the kingdom of God. You know on the night that Charles Spurgeon was converted, probably one of the greatest preachers ever to live, there were only 10 people in the church. Christ only had 12 disciples but they grew to 120, who all fitted in one room on the Day of Pentecost – but from these the gospel has reached around the globe.
The gospel begins small in all our lives. It may be an invitation to a church service or event. It may just be an act of kindness that has brought us this far. Each of us should remember that and also remember the potential significance in the lives of others of the small things done for the sake of the gospel. Plant the mustard seeds and watch the phenomenal growth occur.