He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” (Matthew 13:31-33 ESV)
As believers, we live life in light of a promise -- a promise found in the very beginning of time and recorded in the very beginning of the Bible which speaks to the inevitable rise of God’s kingdom on earth. Genesis 3:17 is known to some as the proto-evangelium, or “first gospel.” In this verse The Lord God speaks to the serpent and foretells the demise of the serpent’s reign over the surface of the earth. The offspring of the woman Eve would be at odds with the offspring of the serpent. The seed or offspring of the serpent would bruise the heel of the woman’s seed; and the woman’s offspring would crush the head of the serpent. This tiny phrase contains within it a promise of One who would come and be the One, bruised and beaten, who would crush death and defeat the serpent by His death and resurrection through the power of God.
This promise had come to those fallen in the garden, but to them, it was not yet fully realized. This promise courses through the entire scripture all the way to Matthew 13, and like leaven lifts the entire word of God. It’s truth of the kingdom’s rise and evil’s demise is declared in the garden, finished at the cross, and yet evil is still prevalent. What are we to make of this reality that has already occurred but is somehow not yet completed?
This passage in Matthew is ripe with meaning and nuance. One of the greatest mysteries surrounding the kingdom of God is that it has appeared with Christ, and yet it is not fully here. Apologetically this is a huge conundrum: If Christ the King has come, and He has proclaimed that the kingdom has arrived, then where is it? Is he talking about a mere heavenly reality or a true earthly dominion.
The disciples themselves asked this same question to the risen Christ in Acts chapter 1. As they stood on the mount called Olivet, their minds awash with thoughts of the kingdom they asked, “Is now the time the kingdom will be restored?”
Many of us, as we read this passage in Matthew, are prompted to question its meaning. We are prompted by general biblical curiosity to be sure, but also something by deeper. The paradox of tiny seeds and mighty kingdoms, minute yeast and massive loaves speaks to a larger discontinuity we all face. We are citizens of Christ’s kingdom but residents of Satan’s world. So we ask, If the kingdom is here, then why is there still suffering, injustice, sin and tumult? Like the disciples, each new generation of believers face the risen Lord and ask “Is now the time?”
The answer to these reasonable questions is found in this passage in Matthew.
The kingdom is already present, though not yet fully consummated. The technical term for this is inaugurated eschatology -- the kingdom has been inaugurated, but not yet fully consummated. Jesus alludes to this truth in both of the examples he provides in verses 31-33.
The mustard seed, while the smallest known seed at the time, contains within in it all the potential for a mustard tree. In essence, it is already a mustard tree, but not yet fully developed. It is greater than its physical appearance. It is teaming with potential, give it the right conditions and it will blossom beyond every tree in the garden.
The yeast speaks to the same metaphor. It is tiny, almost insignificant, and yet it activates and causes growth and increase. Yeast is alive, and has an impact greater than its physical appearance.
God’s kingdom is found on earth in the form of his followers, in the body of believers known as his church. In every captive heart, and in every renewed mind, there resides the measure of kingdom impact. We experience love, family, fellowship, and loss through the experience of this kingdom community.
To those who undergoes this divine naturalization, the reality and the presence of God’s kingdom on earth is overwhelming. And yet there is something lacking, something not yet present. Think of all the good the church accomplishes, think of all the love that you experience in the fellowship of believers, think of all the service done on the part of the church attempting to make the world right. Now consider the following: The millions of believers across the globe, and the love of the believers across this country are but a minute expression of the kingdom that is to come.
So what are we to do with this truth? I believe the answer comes from Acts 3:19-21. Peter and John are speaking to a crowd on the Temple Mount, following the miraculous healing of a lame man at the gate called beautiful. This instance is a perfect example of kingdom living, through the proclamation of God’s love and the power of His Spirit, the lame are made whole and the Word is proclaimed. Immediately after this, Peter and John proclaim the following to the crowd of witnesses:
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that the time of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. (Acts 3:19-21)
Peter and John acknowledge the arrival of the kingdom through their actions, but they also call on the listeners to hope in the kingdom that is to come. Our response to the signs and proclamation of God’s kingdom is to repent, turn from sin, receive Christ and wait until the time that he will return and restore all things. Christ has come. He has come in power. He has deployed His Spirit that we may proclaim the kingdom of Heaven. While some are restored in the present, He will restore all things at a future time.
So we preach. So we act in love to a hurting world. And we relish the joy of His calling on our lives, knowing full well that as great as that joy is, it will pale in comparison to what is to come.