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The Growth of the Kingdom


Matthew 13:31‑33; Mark 4:30‑32; Luke 13:18‑21


The Kingdom Grows Like a Mustard Seed


McGarvey suggests the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds sown in a garden.  Yet, in the area where Christ was speaking, it grows to a height of ten feet.  In fact, the bush is as large as some trees in the region.  Birds use the branches of these bushes to build their nests. 


Jesus likened the remarkable growth of the mustard seed to that of the kingdom.  It's humble beginnings are found in the birth of a child lain in a manger in the tiny town of Bethlehem.  Instead of the king being announced with a fanfare of trumpets, a man dressed in camel skins and eating locusts and wild honey proclaimed the kingdom was at hand.  Vast armies with shining armor did not march out against the armies of other nations to conquer huge tracts of land.  Just twelve men were charged with going into all the world and preaching the gospel (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:1‑7; Mark 1:1‑8; 16:15‑16).


Yet, on the first Pentecost after Christ's resurrection, about three thousand souls were added to their number.  After Peter and John preached in the temple, the number of men who believed came to near five thousand.  Later, because of daily preaching in the temple and every house, the number of the disciples was said to be multiplying.  After the apostles dealt quickly and effectively with the problem of daily ministering to the Hellenist widows, Luke states, "the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:1, 7).  Truly, the kingdom grew to great proportions from a small beginning!  Paul was actually able to say the gospel had been preached in the whole world (Colossians 1:23).


The Kingdom Grows Like Leaven Spreads


A cook in Christ's day who needed leaven could not run to the grocery store and buy some.  Instead, a lump of leavened dough was saved from each baking.  It was added to some more meal to ferment.  Leaven is used by inspired men to represent the negative working of false teachers and sin in some passages (Mark 8:15; 1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).


However, in the parable of the woman hiding leaven in three measures of meal it represents the spread of the church.  McGarvey says, "Leaven represents the quickness, quietness, thoroughness and sureness with which gospel truth diffuses itself through human society."


Lessons Learned from the Spread of Leaven


Neil R. Lightfoot suggests three properties of leaven the Christian should note.  First, leaven can only work if it is in the dough.  Similarly, Christian influence will only have an impact on the world if we are living exemplary lives (Philippians 2:14‑16; 1 Peter 3:15‑16).  Also, the gospel can only work if one allows it into his heart (compare Mark 4:20; Luke 8:15; Acts 2:41; Revelation 3:20).


Second, leaven has the ability to change things.  It changed a persecutor of Christians into a preacher of the gospel (Acts 26:9‑11; 9:17‑22).  Obedience to the gospel causes God to translate one from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ.  A man's goals will be changed from temporal to eternal.  The gospel will make a man change from sinful to righteous acts (Colossians 1:13; 3:1‑17).  He will be a new creature.  The man of sin will be put away and he will live a new life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:3‑4).


Third, leaven is contagious.  When Andrew was invited to follow Jesus, he first found his brother, Peter, and invited him to come along.  Philip went to find his friend, Nathanael, to urge him to come see the one who he believed Moses and the prophets had written about (John 1:35‑51).  The angel of God told Cornelius to send for Peter so he could be told what he must do.  When Peter arrived in Caesarea, he found "Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends" (Acts 10:1‑24).  Paul felt compelled to preach the gospel to all who would listen (1 Corinthians 9:16).


Leaven Is Disturbing


Lightfoot also commented on leaven's ability to disturb things with which it comes in contact.  Anyone who has seen the fermenting process knows leaven disturbs the meal with all sorts of bubbling and working.  The gospel likewise disturbs men.  Some at Philippi took Paul and Silas to the magistrates, saying, "These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe" (Acts 16:20‑21).  In Thessalonica, others said, "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too" (17:6).


Interestingly, this disturbance arises from the working of each particle of leaven. Boles wrote, "The leaven, hid in meal, diffuses itself by its very nature, pressing evermore outward from one particle to another till it permeates the whole mass."  For the church to reach all the lost with the truth, each member must press outward toward those friends and neighbors who have not yet heard the good news (2 Timothy 2:2; Luke 24:46-47)!


David Lipscomb challenges the thinking of the church.  "Leaven is an active working principle.  It may be an active working principle of good, or it may be an active principle of evil.  Place either in an inactive mass, it will leaven the whole mass into a good or bad working mass."  He went on to say, "The church often becomes an inactive, lifeless mass.  A leaven of good or evil working and spreading in the church will work for good or evil and leaven the whole church for good or evil."  For that reason, Christians need to be constantly encouraging one another to "love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24).



Discussion Questions


1.  Describe the nature of the growth of a mustard seed. 


2.  What facts support the Lord's comparison of church growth to that of a mustard seed? 


3.  Give three characteristics of the spread of leaven and explain how the growth of the kingdom is similar. 


4.  Give some New Testament examples of the gospel's disturbing influence. 


5.  If the church becomes an inactive mass, what should concerned Christians do?


 --Gary Hampton, author, evangelist, and preacher training school director