Tuesday, 07 January 2014 15:18

Twin Tiny Parables

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With Jesus’ parables, He also once told two short parables full of constant gospel encouragement. I’m thinking here of the passage in Luke 13:18-21. There we read God’s Word saying: “ Then said he [Jesus], Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.  And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God?  It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” You find a parallel passage to this in Matthew 13:31-33 but in a different context which we will make note of later.

Hearing these two short parables of Jesus, why might we speak of them under the following theme, “Twin tiny parables giving tremendous double-barreled gospel encouragement”? Come with me now as we pursue this theme considering the following three points. We will give some explanation on these parables, speak about appreciating these parables, and then reflecting these parables and their message in our lives.  May the Lord so bless this very relevant message to all of us. In explaining these two parables and how full of gospel encouragement they really are, we should think of their setting.  In Matthew, Jesus gave these twin parables following the parable of the sower and the parable of the field with wheat and tares.  Those parables could possibly discourage Jesus’ hearers. Why? Think about it. Were there not three wrongs ways of listening to the gospel as opposed to only one right way, as told in the parable of the sower? Then, on top of that with the other parable of the wheat and tares, telling about the devil’s wicked plots and works, might it not make a person think: “How really can God’s people survive and thrive with the evil one going about sowing tares among the wheat?”  Who can stand up against the sly devil, Satan, and his constant evil plots, along with this wicked world’s relentless contaminating influences?

But in that very context Jesus now gives these two little parables speaking volumes of gospel encouragement.  I called them tiny parables because they are just one verse parables. They are twin parables too because Jesus gives them jointly with the phrase in Luke, “and again” or “and furthermore” as the connecting link between them.  What is clear also is that these two parables together both focus on the work of God’s Spirit and kingdom beginning small but expanding greatly by God’s grace and almighty power.  We have to say they are not identical twins, however, not exactly the same in every way. No, but the two tiny parables are more like fraternal twins, just twins in the sense they have the same theme but with different focus.

The parable of the mustard seed emphasizes the sure sovereign splendid growth of God’s kingdom expanding outward to all the earth. The parable of the leaven that leavens the whole lump emphasizes the inward growth of the kingdom of God in our hearts and lives, impacting by the Holy Spirit the whole of our being for God and good. The parable of the mustard seed emphasizes the splendid external growth of God’s people and kingdom, and the parable of the leaven emphasizes the sure internal growth of God’s people and kingdom.  Both parables together are so encouraging because they emphasize God’s gospel cause in and through Christ Jesus cannot and will not fail.  God will take care that in and through the Person and work of Jesus Christ the Saviour, by His Word and Spirit, His church and kingdom grows and expands internally and externally, outwardly and inwardly “unto the glory and praise of God” as Paul says in Philippians 1:10. 

It could be, dear friends, that one or more of you are actually quite discouraged in life presently. Discouraged in different ways, especially also spiritually and in regards to the church and cause of the Lord. You see and experience lots of negatives along life’s course, and on account of many disappointing experiences and matters you are maybe losing enthusiasm and drive for the gospel cause personally and in regards to church and kingdom causes. Is this your situation today, even in some measure perhaps? But listen then now to these twin tiny parables giving double-barreled gospel encouragement! 

In the parable of the mustard seed, which isn’t the tiniest seed around, but one of the tiniest and the one the people of Palestine thought of as among the tiniest, Jesus says, the kingdom of God is like that seed. One very small mustard seed when planted and grown can become like a tall bushy shrub up to 10-15 feet high with many branches providing also lots of shelter and lodging for the birds of the air. So the Lord promises the seed of the gospel will grow and expand.

What is the main point Jesus is making with this little parable? He is teaching here that though the kingdom of God, also called the kingdom of heaven beginning here on earth in this fallen world, though it begin ever so small, nevertheless it will truly grow into a large work. God will take care that His gospel cause, though it start out ever so small even, yet it will become truly a great body of believers by God’s grace and power, yes, even world-wide!

The birds of the air lodging in the tree that Jesus mentions bring out simply something of how the mustard seed growing into a gigantic bush will also be of great blessing in this whole world.  Wherever the kingdom of heaven spreads in this world in spirit and truth, it will bring blessing and good to others for body and soul, time and eternity.  So Jesus teaches us with this first tiny parable that God’s gospel cause and kingdom will not only grow and spread magnificently and marvelously so. But when it does and as it does, by God’s grace and power, it also will be a matter of real joy and refreshing and blessing and rest on so many fronts.    

The first tiny parable about the kingdom beginning as a mustard seed brings out Jesus’ teaching of the sure overall success and blessing of the gospel cause.  Yes, however small it may begin and however tiny it may look at any stage along the way.  

Let us now think too of the second tiny parable about the leaven that leavens the whole lump. What an astonishing teacher of the gospel Jesus was and remains! Leaven in those days was most often mainly thought of in a negative way. The apostles also in different New Testament letters warn against the leaven of malice and wickedness and lust and bitterness that, if not removed, can totally consume and destroy a person.

But see Jesus here now speak of leaven only in a positive sense! In this second tiny parable He brings out how just like a little leaven hidden in a batch of dough can penetrate so that it all rises into wonderful tasty loaves of bread, so is the kingdom of God in our hearts and lives by God’s Spirit and Word. If the gospel is truly planted in your mind and heart, though it be at first as small as the yeast we know today, or in the parable just a little piece of fermented dough from a previous baking, yet what overall good impact it has on the whole heart and life of a person. When God works with saving power in our hearts and lives, that gospel works wholehearted change through and through in our lives by God’s grace. Yes, just like a little leaven that leavens the whole lump of dough with good baking results! 

Do you see and hear what Jesus is gloriously emphasizing with this second tiny parable, different from the one of the mustard seed?  The parable of the mustard seed emphasizes the external growth of God’s gospel cause and kingdom and its sure success that way. This parable of the leaven stresses the internal growth in the minds and hearts of people and God’s church with God’s gospel cause and kingdom.  With this parable of the leaven too, what else does Jesus bring out?  Though the work of the Lord has a hidden beginning, yet it will result in the completion of God’s work in the kingdom and in the whole person being leavened through and through with the gospel, unmistakably and noticeably so, by God’s sovereign grace and irresistible Holy Spirit renewing and sanctifying power.  Just as a little leaven in a batch of dough is not really noticeable and perceivable even but works so effectively in the whole lump of dough, so the gospel seed will be blessed by God’s sovereign grace. When truly planted in the way of Spirit-worked regeneration it will, by God’s supernatural grace and power through Word and Spirit, bring about the transformation of the whole person in every part of their being and in all their conduct in thought, word, and deed. 

So what is Jesus saying in short with these tiny twin parables? Do you see it with me? Clearly Jesus teaches here the sure advancement of the gospel cause both externally world-wide and internally in people’s lives, in a wholehearted and total way.   Both parables also tell of the blessings of the outward expansion of the gospel along with the inward expansion of the gospel. On the one hand, it results in shelter being available and offered to many others as pictured by the birds of the air finding shelter and lodging in the mustard tree. And on the other hand, Jesus tells of a person under the leaven of the gospel being impacted in a wholehearted well-rounded way, and giving such a great balanced Christian witness in the whole of their life. This is pictured also in the bread that the leaven helped the dough to rise and develop into.

Don’t you too find this gospel teaching with these simple twin tiny parables most encouraging?  Here Jesus is guaranteeing to His listeners then and for us still today that His gospel cause will succeed in a gracious, great, and glorious way, both outwardly and inwardly, internally and externally. The gospel cause cannot but succeed on both fronts wherever it is planted by the Lord and begins to work. It will succeed, by God’s grace and almighty power. Indeed, no matter what! Against all odds even, and however small and unnoticeable in its beginnings or at any stage, yet His gospel cause will prosper.  His kingdom will come! 

Christ’s gospel cause cannot but triumphant be, indeed, on both fronts, externally and internally, worldwide and inside us personally too, even for as many as repent and believe. Do you see with me how encouraging these two parables really are then, also that they come as twin parables? Imagine world-wide success of the gospel cause without personal wholehearted growth and triumph in the gospel cause! Or think of great personal wholehearted reception and reflection of the gospel, but yet no increase of its saving effect and influence worldwide? How discouraging that would be! You don’t want outward growth without internal growth, and you won’t find truly inward growth without actual external growth then happening as well. This is truly most encouraging if we just think it through.

Maybe an illustration will help make it plain, thinking of a twofold picture on a recent facebook posting. With this twofold picture, in the first scene there was a picture of a rather slim fit person with a TV beside him.  It was the old kind of television, you know, with about a two foot box attached behind it in the back with all the inner TV electronics. Maybe you too have seen a person going to Staples or some other store carrying one of these older bulky TVs, bringing it there not for repair but for the free recycling bins they have in their stores of old electronics accessories of whatever kind. So you see the picture, labeled 1990, of this slim guy standing by one of those older televisions about two feet thick.  Then the second picture, labeled 2013, was a flat screen but the person beside was fat and pudgy and so unfit, with not quite a two foot bulge in front and round, but pretty close to that!

This twofold picture was meant to drive home, I’m guessing, that advancement in technology without advancement in health care isn’t going to help anyone. We might also say any advancement in technology or education or riches and fame is without ultimate benefit to us or anyone without also there being understanding and growth in right perspective and outlook and spiritual life altogether. As Jesus said on several occasions: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and lose his soul?” For healthy effectual gospel advancement too, we need not only gospel success externally but also we need the gospel to have searching, sweeping, sanctifying impact internally.  We need both!

And Jesus says here in our text this is exactly what He will accomplish by His grace and saving power, through His shed blood and by His Spirit and Word. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that grew so greatly, and like the leaven that leavens the whole lump.  Praise God for the beautiful, bountiful, double-barreled gospel encouragement the Lord Jesus gives us here with these twin tiny parables! 

After explaining the parables somewhat, let us move to appreciating them. Here too I want to mention the setting of them as found in Luke 13.  The verses prior to them tell the story where Jesus healed a woman who was physically literally bowed together with a demon-possessed infirmity for 18 years. This woman actually couldn’t lift herself up straight but was literally with her chest and head to the ground constantly. Her deformity really also represented in a physical way literally what is all our problem spiritually speaking, as fallen sinners by nature with the fall into sin with Adam and Eve.  As a result of the fall, as told in Genesis 3 with Satan’s temptation, we each and all have become literally by nature a self-centered, earthly-minded, deformed, and depraved people. This is true of each one of us, so badly so that the Bible describes us as dead in trespasses and sins, without remedy, left to ourselves. That woman in her misery is you and me whether we realize it or not. Do you not know something too of this guilty, miserable, sinful, hopeless condition we are in?  Oh, that people would wake up to it and so truly pay attention also to the great gospel of Jesus Christ, the one and only Saviour of sinners.

For listen now to that gospel news! Jesus came into this world sent of the Father and equipped by the Spirit for this great gospel purpose, namely, to seek and to save sinners, truly and wonderfully so!  And now in these twin tiny parables Jesus tells us here with His saving work, with Him as only Savior, truly there is fullness of redemption for sinners like us. And Jesus’ gospel cause cannot and will not fail.

Rather, by His grace and power, through His salvation work completed and applied, by His death and resurrection and ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Jesus truly is and forever remains the altogether triumphant total Saviour of sinners, even for as many as call upon Him! This Jesus is most able and willing to save sinners, to make straight the crooked, to lift up the bowed down in sin and misery, to deliver sinners like us from all our guilt in sin and bondage to Satan, and to wash us whiter than snow. He promises too that the work He begins in people He also will fully complete till one day all the redeemed, as many as have repented and believed the gospel, are with the Lord in eternal glory in the new heavens and earth.

Oh, given the twin gospel encouragement in these two tiny parables telling of both the external and internal growth and expansion of the gospel cause, what doubly encouraging gospel news this is!  How they, blessed by God, could surely lift the spirits of the few early followers of Jesus who were struggling with doubts about whether His gospel cause would truly prosper or not.  And shouldn’t these twin tiny parables, blessed by God the Holy Spirit, have that same effect and impact still now in our 21st century world? 

Jesus is yet out to gather His church from all the ends of the earth and to build His kingdom in people’s lives and through His church and people in this world.  From the smallest beginnings what great things God Triune can and does accomplish!  Shouldn’t these twin tiny parables give reason for so much confidence and hope in God’s gospel cause?  As one commentator put it: “If people are given over to God’s purposes, small beginnings still come to fruition. God seems to be about the business of leavening; [time and again] magnifying what seems insignificant, [in accordance with His gracious sovereign good pleasure in and through Christ Jesus, the Saviour of sinners].”

Are you appreciating the double-barreled gospel encouragement of these twin tiny parables?  Do you see with me here how Jesus brings out His sure, supreme, saving, sanctifying power in the gospel cause?  Did not Jesus’ own work begin so small and insignificantly, humanly speaking? See Jesus come to this earth as a root out of a dry ground as we read in Isaiah 53. Consider Him, the Royal Seed of David, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, and laid in a manger when come into this world. Consider Jesus being raised and hidden, so to speak, in the despised little village of Nazareth of Galilee.  What would become of Him? Yes, especially too when thinking of Christ despised and rejected by all, and then crucified on Golgotha! Oh, the foolishness of the gospel message telling of a crucified and risen Savior of sinners makes all too many disregard Him. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is the wisdom and power of God unto salvation for as many as have ears to hear. 

For the blessed gospel truth is and remains that Jesus Christ died, as Saviour of sinners, giving His life a ransom for many. And even so, Jesus rose again the third day as triumphant Saviour as He said He would! Exactly by way of the cross He received the crown of crowns as the almighty exalted Saviour. As such, Jesus truly is King of kings and Lord of lords and His gospel cause must triumphant be and will most certainly be! He works effectually in people’s hearts and lives by His gospel word and Spirit, transforming them from sinners to saints and bringing about wholehearted change in their lives. Yes, and gathering in an increasing number of redeemed from all nations and tribes of the earth.  One day the whole world will see and know concerning Christ the Saviour that His is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, now and forevermore, some to their eternal woe and others to their everlasting joy! What about you in this all important matter, dear friends?   

When you appreciate these tiny twin parables, won’t that show in you caring about and praying for God’s saving work inwardly, truly and more and more, and externally, really and more and more?  Is such the case also with you?  God knows what we live for, each one of us. Is it your heart’s desire and longing more than anything else that you personally be wholly consecrated to God in your whole life by His Spirit and gospel word in you? Do you care too in life, above all else, that God’s gospel cause spread far and wide to the ends of the earth by His Spirit and gospel word being blessed to many others? The more we are convicted of how all people are bowed down and deformed with sin and sinfulness of themselves, and that only Jesus can save sinners like us, won’t this really be what we care most about?  Yes, even with all the other matters of life we have to deal with on a daily basis? 

Jesus spoke these twin tiny parables both to those who were saved and those unsaved.  What an encouragement the parables give to God’s people trusting and following the Saviour in spirit and truth. And what an urgent call and warning they give to the unsaved and those all caught up with their own wayward, worldly, and sinful ways.  As Saviour King, one day the final judgment day will come, and then to be left outside of Christ will mean to perish forever in sin. Don’t let the seeming smallness and weakness and foolishness of the gospel cause and way lead you to despise that way, but seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near!  In the end all the grandiose kingdoms of this world will fall and fail, but Christ’s kingdom will prevail. The Saviour still invites all to come to Him to be saved from sin, truly and forever, by His redemption accomplished on behalf of sinners like us. 

Oh, that all of you now will listen to the gospel call and be so encouraged too by these twin tiny parables in its gospel message to all people in all ages. Will you let these two parables take away your doubts that God can and will truly and totally save also a sinner like yourself and your doubts possibly concerning the ultimate triumph and success of all His church and kingdom?

Surely no Christian should be negative about the gospel cause with these twin tiny parables loaded with so much gospel encouragement for us.  We read of David in I Samuel 30:6, in a time when he was so troubled and overwhelmed with life’s problems and sorrows and struggles, also in regards to the faith, “but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.”  How might you and I learn to do the same for ourselves and towards others living especially in our New Testament age, and living in what the Bible calls the last perilous days before Christ returns? Isn’t it by believing and keeping and holding high, also with others, the double-barreled gospel encouragement of these twin tiny parables Jesus gives us here? What overall positive outlook and influence in the Christian life shouldn’t we have and demonstrate also from these twin tiny parables received and believed? If we focus on encouraging each other from out of God’s Word, to God’s praise and in the gospel way, won’t we all be most encouraged and encouraging in God’s gospel ways?”

“Even so, Lord, please cause also this message by Your Holy Spirit now to penetrate and permeate in all our minds and hearts, causing much gospel fruit both internally and externally with saving sanctifying effect and impact in the community and world around us! In Jesus’ Name, we pray this, also with expectation, indeed, on the basis of Jesus’ twin tiny parables here telling such triumphant good news indeed. Hallelujah! Amen.” 

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

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