Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
June 10, 2018
18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
20 And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”
22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
— Luke 13:18-30, ESV
Though He may be to you, Jesus was not a big deal when He first came to earth. Being a Jew from the Galilean town of Nazareth meant Jesus hailed from one of the most insignificant cities in one of the most insignificant regions of one of the most insignificant countries in the ancient Roman Empire. If The New York Times and CNN had existed in that day, they would not have bothered to cover Christ’s campaign. Few really cared what Jesus was doing at the time, and I submit that a relatively small percentage of the world’s population cares about Christ today. Christianity is no big deal in this present world.
Jesus said it would be so. In this passage three questions are asked, two by the Lord and one by an unnamed bystander. All three answered by Jesus in order to point out the essential smallness of the kingdom of God. Smallness does not preclude greatness, however, as citizenship in Christ’s kingdom is by far the most important thing to be gained in this life. It may not be a big deal to the masses, but I hope real Christianity, not the nominal non-saving kind, it is the biggest and best thing in your life.
A Small Seed
Before we cover Christ’s questions about the kingdom of God, we should question the kingdom of God itself. What is it? Where is it? Is it a place, a person, or a group of persons? Yes.
The kingdom of God exists wherever and in whomever God is King and Jesus Christ is Lord. King in the context of Scripture is always sovereign. So, if God has sovereign control that is submissively adhered to in a place, a person, or group, therein lies the kingdom of God. It is invisible and visible, here now and yet to come, small and great. But, it is no big deal, at least size wise. It is actually extremely small, like a mustard seed.
Unduly liberal critics and ultra-conservative commentators stress too much on the objects of this short parable. There may have been smaller seeds available that grew into larger trees than the sometimes ten-foot-tall mustard plant, but that is not the point. The point is that the beginning of real Christianity is no big deal, but rather a very small seed, hardly noticed. But, when planted in good soil (see Jesus’ more famous parable on the seed and four soils), its fruit is plain to see and beneficial to all.
The chief benefits are seed and shade. Mustard seeds grow and produce other mustard seeds, just like real Christians produce other Christians. Shade covers others with acts of love and kindness that Christians show to all people. Real Christianity is no big deal but it does big things in and through those who have it, and share it.
Real Christianity begins with the small seed, and the seed is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It contains the person of Christ, the life of Christ, the death of Christ, and the preaching of the gospel of Christ. It is the only source of salvation for the soul.
The vast majority of people in Jesus’ day did not see Him as the Messiah, the seed which produces the kingdom of God. He was no big deal. He is no big deal today to most people. But, is Jesus Christ a big deal to you?
He is, if the small seed of the gospel has been planted in you, sparking a small but significant transformation in your life.
A Small Transformation
If the mustard seed is the gospel of the kingdom, then the leaven is the power behind the gospel transformation that transports one into the kingdom of God. Leaven is often a negative symbol in the Bible, signifying sin or something else that displeases God. Here, it is a symbol for God Himself.
There is a difference between unleavened bread and leavened. The difference? Well, it would be the leaven, wouldn’t it? There is a difference between an unsaved person and a true Christian. The difference? Well, it would be the Holy Spirit, wouldn’t it?
The emphasis in this parable is the seeming smallness, the unseen and sometimes unnoticed quality of the Holy Spirit entering in to one person at a time. This is no big deal in this present world, but it is the biggest transformation in the universe. The Holy Spirit takes the seed of the gospel and invisibly but totally transforms a person’s life. The Holy Spirit regenerates the heart of a human being and turns the world upside down, or right-side up, making a mere mortal a child of God and a citizen of the kingdom of God.
Real Christianity is not merely believing in God, or it would include almost the whole world. Real Christianity is not merely adhering to the social and moral teachings of Jesus Christ, a WWJD life, as noble as may be such a pursuit. Real Christianity is wrought in a wrestling match with the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit fights against sin and selfishness, and with the seed of the gospel produces repentance and faith. The Spirit turns your life into something completely different, extravagantly better, enormously bigger than it would have been without Him (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:17). Still, it is no bid deal to the world around us.
Two articles were written about me in my hometown newspaper when I was a college student. One mentioned some broken baseball records and some crumpled beer cans. The other, a couple of years later, mentioned my conversation to Christianity, real life-changing kingdom of God Christianity. It was small news in a small town newspaper, no big deal.
Most people’s conversion to Christ doesn’t even warrant a tiny article in any paper. It is no big deal to the world at large. But it is everything to real Christians, to citizens of the kingdom of God, of whom frankly there aren’t that many.
A Small Group
The third question in this passage, offered by another but answered by Jesus, ties all of this smallness together in one big, or small, bundle. The question is excellent , spiritual, sociological, theological, historical, and prophetic: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”
Jesus’ answer was affirmative. It is no big deal, at least not in terms of size or numbers or percentages. The kingdom of God is planted with the small seed of the gospel, produced by the unseen hand of the Holy Spirit, and results is a small group of followers, relatively speaking.
This may be the only point of theology upon which I would strongly disagree with the late, great Charles Haddon Spurgeon. His utter exuberance over the gospel caused him to believe that at the end of the day, more people would be followers of Christ and citizens of Heaven than would remain unregenerate and shut out of the kingdom of God, when that great door finally closes.
In spite of the great heart of Spurgeon, I must side with the small words of Jesus. The kingdom, Jesus said, is found through the narrow door, not the broad. It excludes those who were too busy to notice it. It excludes those who allow other gods, material things, or their own self to lord over their lives. It excludes Jews who think they go to Heaven just for being Jewish and it excludes Christians who think they are going to Heaven just because their name is on some roll of some church.
The kingdom of God is a very small group of souls who often go unnoticed or overlooked in this present life. They are sometimes labeled as last place losers in this life. The kingdom of God is a very small group who by God’s grace gave their lives to Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God is a very small group who are the greatest people on earth, and who at the second coming of Christ will inhabit a new Heaven and new earth for all eternity, which will not be small by any measure.
The kingdom of God will ultimately be great, but today it is small. It may be no big deal to this old world, but it will be the only deal still standing upon the earth on the last day. It is big, but small.
How small? I do not know exactly. I do know that when before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the only people who were saved were Jews who faithfully committed to the covenant of grace as expressed by faith in God as known through the law, writings, and prophets of Israel. That could not have exceeded a few percentage points of the world’s population. Old Covenant Judaism was not a big deal to most people on the planet at the time.
Neither is genuine, kingdom of God, New Testament Christianity in our time. Even though a third of our would claims to be Christian, that number is largely nominal with no noticeable disciplines, habits, or lifestyles that differ from unbelievers. Less than a third of the third attend public worship with any regularity, less than that believe in the authority of Scripture, a smaller percentage still actually believes in the basics about Jesus’ deity, humanity, and substitutionary atonement on the cross, and it is only a subset of those have bent the knee to God the Father, accepted as Lord God the Son, and experienced regenerated by God the Holy Spirit.
This is why Christianity is no bid deal, to the world. But what matters right now is whether or not Jesus Christ is a big deal to you. Get big by going small. Humble yourself before the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Submit to the gospel and the word of God. Great things will come your way, things that can only be found in the greatest place in Heaven and earth, the kingdom of God.
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