Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 13:18-21 – The Transforming Power of the Gospel

Grace For The Journey

If you ever have the opportunity to watch a sketch artist at work, it really is something.  He or she begins with a small mark upon a piece of paper; just a small dot or line and draws just a line or two and moves back and looks at it and there is really nothing to see as far you can tell.  Just a small mark or a line, but to the artist it is the beginning of something big and wonderful.  We are going to see in this passage that something that begins so small and so seemingly insignificant will prove to have been the beginning of something mighty and powerful.

When we were last together, we studied the passage just preceding these verses (verses 10-17), the passage where Jesus heals a woman who had been bent over for 18 years.  We said that this healing was primarily an illustration of God’s kingdom coming, the kingdom of God breaking into this world through the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the Gospel.  We reviewed Luke 4 when Jesus began His ministry in Jerusalem, reading in the temple from the scroll of Isaiah.  He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor” … “to heal the brokenhearted…to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18-19). Christ’s healing of this woman illustrates how the kingdom has broken into this world.  Jesus is preaching the Gospel and healing the brokenhearted and setting people free.  The kingdom of God has broken into this world.

I want to take some time to review what we mean by the “kingdom of God.”  The kingdom of God is something the Christian enjoys now and something to which the Christian looks forward.  The kingdom of God is both present and future.  The kingdom of God is both “now” and “not yet.”  When we trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we enter into the kingdom of God, not as a place, but as a position.  We enter into the reign of Christ.  Jesus Christ rules over our lives and we live under that rule and reign as we surrender to Him daily.  The kingdom is something we enjoy now.  But we also look forward to the “not yet” of the kingdom of God.  When Christ returns, we will enjoy the fullness of the kingdom of God.  This part of the kingdom is “not yet.”  We are waiting for it, anticipating its coming, and looking forward to it.  We recognize that while it is great to be a Christian, this world is not completely fixed.  Sin and darkness are still present.  The light is shining, but there is still much that needs to be fixed.  We look forward to Christ’s coming to fix it.  That’s the “not yet” of the kingdom. 

This healing serves as an introduction to the two parables in verses 18-21, the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven.  You will note the connection between the two things in verse 18 by the use of the word “Then.”  There is a connection.  The English Standard Version captures the connection even better.  It reads, “He said therefore.”  That is, after healing this woman who had been bent over for 18 years, after healing her, Jesus said, “Okay, now that I have your attention, I have a couple of questions for you: “What is the kingdom of God like?  And to what shall I compare it?”

Now these are rhetorical questions; Jesus does not really want an answer from them.  It is a bit like when a man dresses himself for church in the morning and his wife says to him, “Is THAT what you’re wearing?!”  That is not really a question.  She is not really wanting an answer.  She already has the answer.  Jesus asks a couple questions here and is prepared to answer the questions immediately.  He asks, “What is the kingdom of God like?  And to what shall I compare it?”  Then He answers – He gives two illustrations or pictures of the kingdom of God . . .

I. An Illustration From The Garden.

Verses 18 and 19 tells us, Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?  It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”  This teaching is simple and straightforward.  Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a tiny, seemingly insignificant seed that grows into a large tree, so large that birds come and nest in its branches.  That which seems like nothing proves to have been the beginning of something really powerful and mighty.

Here is an illustration from the garden.  The next illustration of the kingdom of God is . . .

II. An Illustration From The Kitchen.

Verse 20 says, “And again He said, To what shall I liken the kingdom of God?”  Again, Jesus is not looking for an answer here!  He says, “I will give you the answer; here it comes; wait for it!”  The answer is in verse 21, “It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal (or, flour) till it was all leavened.”  Jesus says the kingdom of God is like that which you see happening when a woman bakes bread; she takes some leaven (today we would say, “yeast”) and she takes the yeast and mixes in some flour and works it through all the dough.  The yeast in the dough that has a transforming effect on all the dough.  This is what Jesus says the kingdom of God is like.

Here is the main point of these two parables or pictures or illustrations . . .

Something that begins so small

And seemingly so insignificant

Will prove to have been the beginning

Of something powerful and mighty.

There are at least two main “take away” points from this teaching on the kingdom.  First .. . .

1) Kingdom Power Works Outwardly Through The Church.

The growth of the mustard seed from a tiny seed to a large tree is an accurate picture of the outward work of the Gospel in and through the church.  If you think of this historically, you can see how this has been true.  In spite of persecution over 2,000 years the church has grown.  It has grown from something tiny into something huge.  Many scholars think that the imagery in verse 19 of “the birds of the air nesting in the branches” is a picture of the Gospel’s affect upon the entire world, that the kingdom of God will reach all nations.  There is some Old Testament imagery of nations being represented by birds and so it may well be that this imagery is in play here.  Certainly, this would be consistent with our Lord’s call for us to reach the nations with the transforming power of the Gospel.

We are a missional church because our Lord Jesus tells us to reach the nations.  He says in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”  Because churches have been obedient to our Lord’s commission the church has grown from a tiny mustard seed into a tree in which the “birds of the air” or the nations of the world are finding a home.  We must continue to be about the business of reaching the 4 areas of Acts 1:8: our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth or as someone has put it, “our Community, Commonwealth, Country, and Continents.”  This is our mission.  What is remarkably encouraging about this is that God does this work through us, through the church!  I mean, look around at each other!  Look at us!  God works through the church to demonstrate the transforming power of the Gospel – in us and through us – to reach others.

Paul writes to the congregation at Corinth, and he says to them in 1 Corinthians 1:26-27, “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.”  He says, “Look around, brothers and sisters.  You will note that there are not many in the congregation who are wise, not many of you are mighty or even powerful and popular. No,” he says, “but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise.”  God delights in taking the tiny and seemingly insignificant and demonstrating the power of the Gospel by growing the tiny and seemingly insignificant into something powerful and mighty.  God does that. 

This is a consistent theme throughout the Scriptures.

The wise men came from the East and they came to a popular city and they came to a big temple and they stood before a big and mighty ruler and they asked, “Where is He who is born King of the Jews?  We have seen His star.  We figure He must be a pretty big guy and that is why we came to this big city and this big temple and we’re standing before you, Herod, a big ruler because we figure surely you know what’s going on!”

Christ’s work does not begin the way man’s work would begin. 

  • The wise men find the kingdom of God beginning in a small, obscure town – the little town of Bethlehem – what a strange place for a king to begin a kingdom!  This king is born outside in a dirty feed trough!  How tiny and seemingly so insignificant.
  • This king grows and then He does not do things the way we would expect.  He does not call the popular and the princes to be His first followers . . . He calls the tax collector, the common fisherman, the unpopular, the outcast, and the overlooked.  There were a few popular and noble, but in the main, he chooses the seemingly tiny and insignificant.
  • He walks into a place of worship and He does not bring before the people the popular leader of the place, but He reaches to the back and calls forth an obscure woman, bent over for 18 years.
  • He does not build His church the way we talk about building a church in America today.  “Get your brand out there!  Get the color brochure and the billboard with a big attractive logo on the front!”  His logo is a tiny seed – The Word Of God!

Kingdom power works outwardly through the church.  Secondly . . .

2) Kingdom Power Works Inwardly Through The Christian.

Leaven or yeast is unseen and works silently within the dough.  You do not really see it, but you see the effect of it.  There is a transforming power at work within the Christian.  The woman bent over illustrates the working of this power from the inside out.  Christ comes and heals this woman who was bent over for 18 years.  Christ comes and touches her and kingdom power – like leaven mixed with flour – works on the inside and she is straightened out.

This is what God does for the Christian.  Through the power of the Gospel, the kingdom power of the Gospel, the work of grace within our hearts is that which works like leaven or yeast, working on the inside, transforming us, straightening us up, and healing us.  The small beginning of grace within our hearts works like leaven, gradually influencing every fiber of our being, transforming us into the likeness of Christ.  The kingdom of God is like that.  That which is small and seemingly so insignificant proves to have been the beginning of something powerful and mighty.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he or she is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new.”  While we are “new creations” in Christ we are still growing . . . We are still becoming more and more like Jesus.  The grace at work in our hearts is working through us as we grow.

Some of us are so impatient with ourselves!  We want to “be perfect” right now.  It does not happen all it once.  Forgiveness happens all at once.  But we are not perfect all at once.  We are growing.   He is still working on us, to make us what we ought to be.

Some of us are so impatient with others!  Gospel power is at work like yeast within dough.  You do not see it, but it is there, working in and through every Christian.  It takes time while it is doing the work.  It is transforming character and conforming Christians into the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29).

Like that sketch artist we were talking about.  He starts with something so tiny and something seemingly so insignificant.  It looks like nothing.  To everyone except that artist, it is nothing; just an insignificant mark on a canvass.  In fact, to some people it may even look like a mistake.  But to the artist, that small dot or line, that seemingly insignificant mark will prove to have been the beginning of something beautiful, a remarkable demonstration of the power of the artist.

God is at work through the transforming power of the Gospel.  God is growing His church like a tiny mustard seed growing into a tree.  And God is growing His Christians, transforming them from the inside-out, like leaven working through all the dough.  Praise God for the transforming power of the Gospel!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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