Luke 13: 18 – 21 The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast
Then Jesus asked, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.’
Again he asked, ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.’
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In the first parable, the start of the kingdom is a mustard seed – a single mustard seed that a man plants in his garden. What happens to it there?
Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’ (John 12: 24)
It is the same with the mustard seed. It is buried in the ground, it ‘dies’, and then, when the spring comes, it starts to grow. Nurtured by God, it grows until it is a tree, so large that birds can sit on its branches.
We see this over and over with the Christian church, from its birth, through numerous missionary endeavours, through the reformation, through the start of the Methodist church, through the Pentecostal renewal and many others. A very small thing involving few people will grow into something mighty, glorifying God.
In the second parable, the start of the kingdom is a small quantity of yeast. The yeast would be mixed in a little water, and then this would have been mixed into the dough.
Now, thirty kilos of dough is a lot – the amount in the picture above is about one kilo. It would make more than thirty large loaves – enough to last a whole big family a week, even if bread were the main part of their diet. It’s also a lot to handle. It would take a great deal of hard work to mix so much in a single batch.
You can’t see the yeast as you’re mixing it in, but it works away, and eventually the whole batch of dough is leavened. The woman knows by experience how much mixing is needed before she splits up the dough into separate portions. Then she leaves each of the portions in a warm place for a short time and the leaven works, causing each of the portions to rise and become a loaf ready for cooking.
The main message we can take from this parable is that, just as with the yeast, we often can’t see the way God is working to bring about his kingdom. It’s hidden. It goes on below the surface through the working of his Holy Spirit.
I think these two parables were primarily told to encourage the disciples. In the dark days surrounding Jesus’ death, and in the confusion that filled them at his resurrection, these parables would remind them that God was working even when they couldn’t see him. They would remind the disciples that the kingdom of God would start small and grow to become great.
Moreover, they apply to every age, and they can encourage us too. God is there, working, even when we can’t see him. Praise Him!
Thank you for the privilege of being part of your kingdom. Help us all to play our part in bringing it to completion.
In Jesus’ name, Amen