Luke 13:18-21 (ESV)
He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 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.”
And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”
This all seems obvious enough to us. But the audience here doesn’t know the Christmas story. They’re expecting the kingdom of God to start with a bang. God is all powerful. Why would He not do things in a spectacular way?
So, this is a surprising message. The kingdom of God is going to start small but grow tremendously over time. A mustard seed is tiny; you can hold hundreds of them in one hand. Yet it grows into a plant over ten feet high.
Three measures of flour equals about 20 quarts. That will make 20 large loaves of bread – enough to feed a hundred people. Yet, the tiniest amount of leavening spreads through the whole batch.
This teaching is important because the early Christians will face many discouraging trials. They will be tough enough without the added burden of wondering why the whole thing doesn’t look like what God’s plan “should” look like.
By laying out a rough timetable for the actual expansion of the kingdom of God, Jesus prevents a lot of pain.
God’s sense of timing is different from ours.
God’s priorities don’t look much like ours either. Jesus’ slow march to the cross seems nuts, both in terms of timing and in terms of, “What the heck is He doing that for?”
We’re not going to understand God priorities, or his timing, but at least we can learn that they are light-years different from ours. That’s the point of the lesson Jesus is teaching here.
We have a tendency to get depressed when things aren’t going our way and impatient when they are. That’s understandable, given our human perspective and our lack of knowledge about God’s plans. So, Jesus gives warnings like this one to remind us to be patient.
The Christians of Jesus’ day will have to wait about 300 years, enduring terrible persecution the whole time, as they watch the mustard seed of the kingdom of God slowly grow, until it finally takes over the whole Roman Empire.
That’s a lot of patience.
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