By J.R. Miller
Matthew 13:31-33; 44-52
The parables of Jesus are unforgettable pictures. They are stories laden with truth. Some preachers tell stories which thrill those who hear them, and yet they are tales with no lesson. The parables of Jesus are rustic and interesting, and yet they are vital with spiritual meaning.
The mustard seed is little, so small that one can scarcely see it. Yet it has life in it, and when it is sown in a field it grows and becomes a tree, so large that the birds come and nest in its branches. There would be no reason for our Lord's telling us about this little seed and its plant merely as a bit of natural history. It is beautiful and interesting even in this way--but He had a further purpose in His parable. He uses it as an illustration of His kingdom in the world.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed." Christianity began in a very small way. A little baby lay in a manger--that was the beginning of the kingdom of heaven in this world. A kingdom implies a king. Christ ruled over a very small kingdom that night. His mother loved Him as mothers always love their children, and He reigned in her heart. Some shepherds came in during the night and saw the Child-King and worshiped Him. Their lives were never the same again, for one who has had a God-given vision of Christ can never lose the influence out of his heart. They returned to their lowly duty--keeping watch over the flock--but they were better shepherds afterwards and better men. The kingdom of heaven had entered their hearts.
But the beginning of the kingdom was small indeed--like a mustard seed. For thirty years it seemed to have no appreciable growth. The child grew--but dwelt in a lowly home in a peasant village. His childhood was not unusual. He was not an unusual boy. There was no halo around His brow. Nothing showed that He was kingly. There were no flashings of divinity on His face. He did no brilliant things. He wrought no miracles. He went to school and learned His lessons--but revealed no greatness. According to the customs of His people, he entered the carpenter's shop at twelve as an apprentice, and for eighteen years worked at the carpenter's bench. "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed... which indeed is smaller than all seeds."
We know what the kingdom of Christ is today. It has touched many lands with its holy influence. It has become a great tree with many wide-spreading branches. On its boughs the birds sit and sing. In its shadows the people rest. Its fruits feed the hunger of multitudes. The tree is still growing. The great missionary movement of today is extending it, and it is destined to fill all lands. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.
Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."
The next parable tells of the pervasive and permeating influence of the gospel of Christ. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." Usually in the Bible, leaven stands for something evil. It was a symbol of sin in the Mosaic dispensation. Paul exhorts believers to purge out the old leaven. But here it is used in a good sense. The teaching is very apt. Leaven works secretly and silently. It makes no noise. It works pervasively, creeping out through the dough until every particle of it has been affected. Thus it is that the influence of Christianity permeates society, penetrating everywhere, touching every institution, changing all things.
The illustration may be widely applied. Thus individual lives are changed. The leaven of Divine grace in the heart works out until the whole character is changed. Henry Drummond in one of his books tells of a girl whose life was transformed into great spiritual beauty. Her friends wondered what had wrought the change. At length the secret was discovered in a verse of Scripture which she carried in a locket, "Whom having not seen, you love" (Pet.1:8). The leaven works also in communities. Neighborhoods are changed, transformed by the gospel. In mission lands there are many notable illustrations.
The truest work of Christianity is quiet. It is a religion less of organization, than of personal influence. It is not always the most active person who does the most for the advancement of the kingdom of God; often it is the quiet man or woman whose life is holy and beautiful, who really does the most for the changing of other lives. Many an invalid, who cannot take any active part in the affairs of the Church--yet exerts a sweetening and ennobling influence in a home, in a community, which far surpasses in its value the busy ministry of one who is always going about, talking, doing good.
The lesson from the leaven, is that it does its work by being put into the midst of the loaf. It will not do any good if laid on the shelf; in however close proximity to the dough. It must be in the mass. There are some Christian people who seem to feel no responsibility for the touching or influencing of other lives. They incline to keep away from people and to be exclusive. But leaven will never do its work if kept away from people. Thus Jesus did--He was called a friend of publicans and sinners. He ate with them and mingled with them in all social ways, and His pure, loving, gentle life left its impress on their lives. Jesus did not teach His disciples to hide away from people, to keep out of the world--but to live in the world, to be friends of men, to seek to influence others by being with them. He said they were salt--but salt to do its work, to perform its mission, must be rubbed into that which it is to preserve.
We need to take the lesson. Be leaven wherever you are. Let your godliness be felt. Let your kindness touch others. Let your example have in it a contagion of joy, of peace, of unselfishness, of sweetness, of purity, which shall be a blessing everywhere. Be sure that you make one little spot of the world better, cleaner, whiter, brighter, gladder--because you live in it.
In another parable Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field." There were no banks in ancient times, especially in unsettled countries. It was common therefore to hide treasure in the ground. Not infrequently did one come upon such concealed treasure. Of course, Jesus had spiritual treasure in His thought, as He is illustrating the kingdom of heaven. We do not dream of the wealth of invisible riches that are always close to us as we go through this world. A man may work for years in a field, digging and plowing over it, not thinking of anything of value in it, and then suddenly someday discover that there are valuable minerals or even gems hidden under his pick and plow.
Dr. Newell Hillis says: Lecturing in Kentucky recently, I saw a cave of diamonds, newly discovered. One day a farmer, plowing, thought the ground sounded hollow. Going to the barn he brought a spade and opened up the aperture. Flinging down a rope, his friends let the explorer down, and when the torches were lighted, behold, a cave of amethysts and sapphires and diamonds. For generations the cave had been undiscovered and the jewels unknown. Wild beasts had fed just above those flashing gems, and still more savage men had lived and fought and died there. And yet just beneath was this cave of flashing jewels.
We do not know what hidden treasures of spiritual good there are all the while so close to us that our hand could take them if we saw them. Sometimes we come suddenly upon them, and then we should instantly seize them and appropriate them, whatever it may cost us. The man in the parable sold all he had and bought the field in which the treasure was concealed. We should be ready to give up all we have to get the spiritual riches that we find.
The parable of the pearl teaches almost the same lesson as that of the hidden treasure. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." The merchant sought goodly pearls--the best that could be found. Then when he heard of this best of pearls, he was willing to give up all he had that he might possess it. Too often, we do not live for the best things. When we find something even better than the good--we should be eager to possess it, no matter if we have to give up all we have to buy it.