From Matthew 13 is taken two of the seven parables recorded there. In Matthew the citation begins, “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto …” but as has been shown in other articles, Matthew is the only one of the four gospels which uses the phrase “the kingdom of heaven.” The other three use exclusively the term “kingdom of God.” To reinforce that truth, the parable of the mustard seed is contained not only in Matthew, but also in Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19. The parable of the leaven is found in Matthew and Luke 13:20-21. Matthew includes an explanation of the parable of the sower but neither he, Mark, nor Luke offer explanations for the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven.
“Another parable set he before them, saying, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: which indeed is less than all seeds: but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes like a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in the branches there” (Matt. 13:31-32). This parable sets forth the spread of the kingdom for just as a mustard seed is one of the smallest of seeds, so was the beginning of the kingdom of God. From a tiny seed to a large tree in which birds could lodge so grew the kingdom. From 3,000 on the day of its beginning (Acts 2:41), it spread throughout the world. It was not composed of the rich and powerful (although there were a few in its number, 1 Cor. 1:26-31), yet it ultimately “conquered” the world in that it gained the right to teach and worship unhampered by governments of men. It was opposed, scorned, and persecuted. Jewish teachers in Rome said to Paul, “We desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest for as concerning this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22).
The mighty nation of Rome had conquered powerful and rich nations, and it thought it could vanquish this movement that began so tiny and small. For two and a half centuries it tried to crush and eliminate this body of people who posed no external threat to Rome’s rule save in one point: they would not put a pinch of incense on an altar to the Caesar and say, “Caesar is Lord and God.” Rome exiled its leaders, deprived its citizens of the right to work and eat, tormented and tortured the brethren, and put to death many of them; yet the word continued to spread. Finally, it was Rome that yielded. Caesar Constantine signed an edict of tolerance (the Edict of Milan) in A.D. 313, granting Christians the right to teach and worship and to do as their Lord had commanded them: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things which are God’s” (Mt. 22:21). Caesar had a right to their tribute and they would give that to him. But only God has the right to be called Lord and God. Christians could never address Caesar as “Lord and God.”
The cessation of persecution brought another kind of growth but an undesirable one. It became “fashionable” to be a “Christian” and flocks of people throughout the Roman world offered themselves for baptism and became “Christians.” But there was no true change of their heart, and thus no real change in their lives. The church became corrupt, and ultimately, just as God had warned Ephesus, He removed His candlestick (Rev. 2:5). For centuries the outward church became more and more like physical Rome, and less and less like the humble description Jesus left of His people (Matthew 5-7). Ultimately the “church” was unrecognizable as God’s kingdom and concerned people saw that and sought to “reform” the corrupted church. This was the Reformation Movement. That was insufficient because it only added to division and corruption. At last, in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s a few men in both Europe and the United States saw the futility of trying to reform Catholicism. They saw the need to return to the Bible alone. So they united on the premise “Let us speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. Let us call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways.” So began the Restoration Movement. It was small in its beginning. It was a great tree as it grew.
Immediately following the parable of the mustard seed Jesus offered these words: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till all was leavened” (Mt.13:33). The parable of the mustard seed shows the influence of the word in an outward manner. The parable of the leaven emphasizes how the word, like leaven, influences the whole man from the inside. The word, like leaven, if unobstructed (the good seed in the parable of the sower), permeates and changes the whole man. Our minds and hearts are changed. Our words are changed. Our deeds or works are changed. Leaven leaves nothing in a lump of dough untouched and the good word leaves nothing untouched in a sincere, honest heart. The change may be slow and gradual, for the new Christian is like a babe, hungering for the sincere milk of the word that he may grow thereby unto salvation (1 Pet. 2:2).
It is said that archeologists, searching the tomb of an ancient Egyptian, found seed in an earthen jar; seed that was thousands of years old. Yet, when that seed that had lain dormant for two millenia, was placed in good soil, it sprouted and grew! So it is with the word. It always is quick and powerful (Heb. 4:12). It always has life in itself (Jn. 6:63). What we need today is for those who profess to believe in the power of the gospel — to believe in the power of the gospel. Preach that word. Believe the words of God who caused Isaiah to write, “So shall my words be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). O brethren, preachers, teachers, elders — let us believe the words of God through Isaiah and let us proclaim unceasingly the eternal word of God! It will work like a mustard seed and leaven. Let us preach faithfully the word and leave the results to our Almighty God.