The first two parables talk about the conflict. They talk about the right and the wrong fighting one another. But the next two talk about the victory of the right. That in the end, the little tiny mustard seed fills the earth.
The little piece of leaven leavens the whole loaf of bread. What started very small ends up profoundly influencing everything. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.
I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Maybe you are the only Christian in your entire workplace, or you're the lone believer in your family, and you've thought to yourself, what sort of influence for God can I really be in my corner of the world? Well, today, as John MacArthur continues his study called the parables of the kingdom, he's going to show you the power of the gospel message, even when it's spoken by just one person. I think this lesson will encourage you, especially if you're feeling alone in your faith.
And with that, here's John MacArthur. Open your Bible, if you will, now to Matthew chapter 13. Again, we go back to the parables of our Lord on the kingdom of heaven, Matthew chapter 13. I'm going to read verses 31 through 33 as we begin, and that encompasses two parables.
It's helpful if we can look at them together, at least as a setting. Beginning then in Matthew chapter 13 with verse 31. Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all seeds. But when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh the tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches of it. Another parable spoke He unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. Small things can have can have ultimately very large effects.
All music, all symphonies, concertos, oratorios, hymns, songs, all music comes basically from eight notes. All the profound words that have ever been uttered or written in the English language come from 26 letters. Small beginnings, profound, extensive results. Lord Kelvin provides us with an interesting insight into this by an experiment which he once made. He suspended a large chunk of steel weighing many, many, many pounds. It was hanging there in his lab to prove a point. He then proceeded to wad up little bits of paper about the size of a pea, and systematically throw the wad at the steel. At first, that rather gentle tap had no effect at all.
But eventually, the steel was swaying back and forth and back and forth because of the relentless tapping of the little piece of paper. Small things, profound results. That's really the lesson of these parables. And if you understand that, you will understand what these parables are teaching. Now, let me give you a little bit of background so that you'll be able to feel with the disciples what they felt as Jesus was teaching them. The disciples basically believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the King. Messiah means anointed one and that implies King. That He was the greater Son of David, that He was the promised King who would set up the kingdom.
And for them, the kingdom had very clear definitions. It would come in glory. It would come in power. There would be pomp and circumstance. There would be great cataclysmic events.
There would be the punishment of evildoers. They were looking for the music and the horses, the triumph, the wonder, the glory, the show, the publicity. They really anticipated a blazing display of power and glory and majesty and might as the Messiah established His kingdom.
But it didn't happen that way. And that's why they kept asking themselves, was this the Messiah? They struggled with that all the way along and He would tell them again and again that He was and they would still struggle with it. And all the way into the book of Acts, they are still asking, will you at this time bring the kingdom? I mean they never quite understood because their expectations were so different from what they were seeing. Now they thought because they had read Ezekiel and they had read the other prophets that when the Lord came, all of the rebels and all of the rejecters and all of those who turned their back on God would be blasted out of existence in the fury of God's judgment and the kingdom would come. But the rejecters kept mounting and mounting and getting more flagrant and more violent and more overt and more confrontive. And instead of Jesus talking about what He would do to them, He started talking about what they would do to Him. And instead of Him saying He was going to kill them, He started saying, they're going to kill me. Very, very hard for them to handle. And so even when Jesus said to them, I must die, they violently responded as Peter, Lord let not this be so.
It can't happen. And the very day that they were throwing palm branches at His feet and He was coming into the city of Jerusalem and they were crying hosanna to the Son of David and it looked like this would be the moment. And the disciples' blood must have been pumping fast and their heart beating and the anticipation rising. And when it was all at its peak, Jesus said, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone. And He started to talk about His death again. You see, they were looking for a kingdom of glory, a kingdom of power, a kingdom of majesty, a kingdom of worldwide wonder, a kingdom where the unbeliever and the rejecter was immediately devastated and destroyed.
And it didn't happen. And so Jesus teaches them why in Matthew 13. He says, before that comes, here is a form of the kingdom which now exists which you must understand so you're not confused. And He calls it the mystery form, verse 11. That means it's something that isn't clear in the Old Testament. It isn't something that isn't clear in the Old Testament. It was not laid out so clearly that you would understand.
It was hidden. And now I will unfold it to you. This is a form of the kingdom you never really understood. And so He gives them seven parables which explain to them the kingdom in its mystery form prior to the millennial blaze of glory that they were anticipating. The first parable He gives them is about four kinds of soil.
Three of them do not receive the message of the king. That tells them that this form of the kingdom will include rejection. Now we're living in this form still prior to that blazing millennial kingdom and we can agree with that, can't we? In fact, most of the world rejects.
Most of the world is the hard soil that doesn't even let the message in or the rocky soil that lets it in a little while and then it withers or the weedy soil that finally chokes it out because of the love of the world and the cares of this age. Most of the world is rejecting. And so the Lord says in this form of the kingdom I'll still be the king and I am still the sovereign over the earth and I'm still ruling but I am allowing for rejection. And of course the immediate question that would come into the mind of the disciple would be, well, what's going to happen to the rejectors? How should we treat the rejectors? How should we treat the rejectors?
I mean if this is the kingdom and we're the subjects of the king, aren't we the most important people in the world and shouldn't we be upholding the honor and the glory of the king? So how should we handle these rejectors? And see they were thinking as in human life why if you if you had a king and you were a loyal subject of the king and there were a bunch of revolutionaries and reactionaries and rebels in the society you'd wipe them out, wouldn't you? And so they're saying, what are we going to do with these blaspheming rejectors? And so the Lord tells them a second parable.
He says the weed and the tares, the kingdom citizens and the rejectors are going to grow together until when? The judgment. And what he is saying is it's not your job to be the executioners. That's for the angels and the in the judgment.
Your job is to keep on being the wheat in the midst of the world so that you'll influence the tares or the darnels that are all around you. You're not to be the executioners. You're not to pull off the judgment.
You're not to pull them out of the ground because you don't know what you're doing. You're liable to kill some Christians in the process and let some non-Christians go because you can't see the heart. So your job is not judgment.
Your job is evangelism. They'll grow together until the end. Now what do you think the next question is that they're going to ask? They're going to think, I know this is what I thought. Well now, this is the kingdom and we've got all these people who reject and they're all over the place because the parable of the tares said that the tares were sown throughout the field. And evil is so powerful and evil is so strong and evil is so dominating in its influence, if these two things are going along together, isn't that going to choke out the life of the kingdom? Isn't that going to strangle the power of Christ in the world? And so the Lord gives them two more parables. That's natural that they would think that. I mean they're looking at each other and they're saying it's just us guys, fellas. We're the kingdom of God in the world.
And man, the odds are unbelievable. Aren't we going to get literally wiped out in this? And so He teaches them these two parables that show from very small beginnings, very insignificant, the kingdom is going to grow in spite of the opposition to ultimately influence the whole wide world. The first two parables talk about the conflict. They talk about the antagonism of evil and good in the kingdom. They talk about the right and the wrong fighting one another.
But the next two talk about the victory of the right. That in the end, the little tiny mustard seed fills the earth. The little piece of leaven leavens the whole loaf of bread. What started very small ends up profoundly influencing everything. And so we move now, watch this carefully. From the two parables that describe the nature of the kingdom, it will be with believers and unbelievers side by side, to the two parables that describe the power of the kingdom, the power of the kingdom.
In spite of its smallness, it will sweep the world. You know, there's another way to look at this and I was kind of struck by this as I thought through so many things regarding these parables. The first parable of the soils talks basically about the breadth of the kingdom. The seed is sown in the field and the field is the what?
The world. The breadth of the kingdom. The second parable talks about the breadth of the kingdom. The second parable talks about the length of the kingdom.
It'll go on until the harvest. The third parable, the parable of the mustard seed, talks about the height of the kingdom. We could talk about extent. The fourth parable of the leaven talks about the depth of the kingdom as it is hidden in the dough and influences from within. So you have the kingdom seen in its breadth and its length and its height and its depth. The Lord is describing it in every dimension. And after He has done all of this, the next two parables, He talks about its personal appropriation in the life of an individual after having described its general characteristics.
Marvelous progression of thought. Now the Lord does not explain to us these two parables, but don't feel bad. The Lord gave us somebody to explain them to us.
Who's that? The Holy Spirit. So we aren't cheated at all. He explained them to disciples. The Bible tells us He explained all of these things to them.
But for us, we have the resident Holy Spirit and we, because we understand God and we understand the mind of God as revealed in the Word of God, can fit this in with His plan. Now let's look at the first parable, and I believe you'll be absolutely fascinated by this one. The mustard seed, which describes the external power of the kingdom. Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field. Now here's a man who is again a farmer, and he's going to plant a crop. And he plants a crop of mustard.
Why? Well, it was used for many things. It was used for its oil, and its oil, by the way, was used for many things as well, one of which was medicinal use. It was used also for flavoring. Even today, mustard seed is a valuable commodity, very valuable, and they raised it as a crop, as we still do.
Verse 32 goes on to describe the situation. It says that the mustard seed is indeed the least of all seeds, or the smallest of all seeds. But when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh the tree.
In fact, it's so big that the birds of the air come and make their home in the branches of it. Now basically, let me just give you a little botany so we know where we're going. This particular mustard seed causes to grow a bush, a shrub, we would call it, like a garden plant. Normally, it grows to about seven to eight feet in height, and that's a good-sized garden plant. That's a good-sized herb, and you'll notice it's put in the herb family, laconon in the Greek.
We'll discuss that in a moment. But very frequently, it'll grow to 12 to 15 feet in height. And there are many testimonies that have been written by eyewitnesses in the east who have seen these fields, both now and in past generations, who have testified to the fact that they get to be 15 feet high.
One writer talks about them being higher than a horse and rider. Another writer says that the horse and the rider can ride under the branches of the mustard bush. Now, that's a big bush. And what the Lord is saying is you have no real connection apparent between the smallness of the seed and the largeness of the end result. You have the very smallest seed issuing in the very largest bush that can grow. You can plant a barley seed, and you'll get a barley plant that's fairly good-sized. You can plant a seed of wheat or of corn, and you get a fairly good-sized thing.
But you plant this seed, and you get a 15-foot-high bush big enough to ride a horse under. That's his point. So the parable is not an exaggeration. It is a statement commonly understood, as are all the parables. Their point is not an exaggeration. Their point is that they are commonly understood. Their point is not an exaggeration.
Their point is that they are commonly understood fact of life. Now let me take you a little deeper into this situation. Jesus in verse 32 says this is the least of all seeds. Now right at that juncture, theological war takes place. The critics who want to attack the Bible pounce on that statement. Here's what they say.
There you go. You see, that proves the Bible is not inerrant because anybody knows that an orchid, a wild orchid seed, is smaller than a mustard seed. Therefore, Jesus, one, didn't know him, didn't know, and if he didn't know, guess who he's not?
God. Or, he knew they were wrong, but he accommodated their ignorance. And then we have what they call biblical or cultural accommodation, where sometimes the Bible writer doesn't say what's true. He says what people think is true just to be relevant. And once you've opened that can of worms, good luck, because who's to say which is which? The critics say, you see, Jesus is wrong.
Now either he's wrong because he's ignorant, or he's wrong because he's going along with their error. Either way, we're in trouble, right? You say, well, what do you say, MacArthur? I say he's right. Do we prove that? I think so. Do we prove that?
I think so. Notice in verse 32 the word herbs, laconon. That word refers to garden vegetables, garden greens that are grown purposely to be eaten.
It is used in Romans 14 in that regard. It refers to that which is planted as a crop to be eaten, in opposition to wild plants. These are plants sown purposely. So the seed then is a seed sown agriculturally to produce edible vegetables and greens. Now listen, of all of the seeds that were sown in the east to produce edible products, the mustard seed was and still is the smallest.
Jesus is speaking within a framework in which what He says is exactly correct. This was affirmed by a man by the name of Dr. L. H. Shinners, who's the director of the Herbarium at SMU in Dallas. They have the largest herbarium in the southwest, 318,000 botanical specimens from all over the world.
He is a regular lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute. And he said, quote, the mustard seed would indeed have been the smallest of those to have been noticed by the people at the time of Christ. The principal field crops, barley, wheat, lentils and beans, have much larger seeds as do other plants which might have been present as weeds and so forth. There are various weeds and wildflowers belonging to the mustard, amaranth, pigweed, chickweed family with seeds that are small or smaller than mustard. But they would not have been known or noticed by the inhabitants. They are wild and they certainly would not have been planted as a crop.
Isn't that wonderful? Isn't it wonderful when Jesus talks about seeds He's right? If I can trust Him with seeds, I can trust Him with eternity. Schinner's went on to say the only modern crop plant, the only modern crop plant in existence with smaller seeds than mustard is tobacco.
And this plant of American origin wasn't grown in the old world until the sixteenth century or later. So when Jesus said a man sowed the smallest seed that's ever sowed, he was dead right. Further, they say, well, look what it says in verse 32, it becomes a tree. And anybody knows it doesn't become a tree, look. He's not talking about a timber tree. He's talking about a shrub so large that it has the properties of a tree.
And what is the property of a tree which it has? What's the rest of verse 32 say? Birds can live in it. There are a lot of bushes birds can't live in. By the way, the word lodge there in verse 32, that's a very intense Greek term that means to make their home there, build a nest and stay. I mean, we've got a little bushes in our yard, but if a bird tried to build a nest, it would bend over and drop them on the ground and all the eggs would fall out.
This one gets big. And they tell us too, botanists do, that in a certain time of the year, the branches become rigid and birds build their nests there. Very accurate. That's the chancellor of the Master's University and Seminary and the Bible teacher here on Grace to You, John MacArthur. He calls his study the parables of the kingdom.
Now, John, as we're seeing, these parables of Jesus require some thoughtful and careful study, and of course, that gets to the purpose of Grace to You. We are here to help people dig into biblical truth and to process it and to apply it to their lives. And so in keeping with that purpose, we are reintroducing a line of study tools that we used to produce, and for decades they helped God's people understand the Bible in a deeper way. We're bringing them back.
Talk about that. Yeah, these were our study guides. They were extremely popular, and the idea was that we would mail out a study guide prior to a radio series so that those who listened would have in their hands the outline of what I was saying and some of the illustrations and even questions and stimulating ideas that they could draw from to better understand the passage. So it was a twofold opportunity.
They could listen to the radio and they could be looking at the material right in front of them. They were tremendously popular, found their way into people's devotional lives, personal Bible study, small groups, Sunday school classes, discipleship, and all of that. And recently, we decided to launch it again, and we began with the first one a few months ago on Spiritual Boot Camp, which was kind of the basics of the Christian life. And the second one is now available, The Believer's Armor. And because this is a very exciting opportunity for us in the relaunch, we want to make sure that all of you get an experience with these study guides so they're free to anyone who has never contacted us before. Over the years, we've produced about 150 of these study guides, and they deal with a subject, a topic that's in a text of Scripture. So their titles relate to some doctrinal theme tied to the text of a Scripture. So instead of just looking at a commentary and flowing through a text, this approaches the study of the Word of God on a topical basis. These are soft cover books corresponding, as I said, to our sermon series. We're in the process of sprucing up the study guides and relaunching them for a new generation.
And this one on The Believer's Armor is taken from Ephesians 6, that familiar passage that identifies how the Christian finds victory in the battle against sin and Satan. If you've never been in touch with us before, we'll send you a free copy of the study guide on The Believer's Armor. We're going to be airing this series in a few weeks, so the study guide will give you that added benefit.
And the rest of you can, of course, if you're part of our family already, you can order one at a very reasonable price. Yes, friend, this book is a great complement to John's radio series. If you're a believer, God has given you everything you need to resist Satan's attacks, and this study guide shows you how to take full advantage of those divine resources. To request your copy of The Believer's Armor study guide—free if it's your first time contacting us—get in touch today. Call our toll-free number, 800-55-GRACE, or go to gty.org. The Believer's Armor study guide is a great resource to go through one-on-one with a new believer, or in a small group.
And again, if you've never contacted us before, The Believer's Armor study guide is our gift to you. Just call us at 800-55-GRACE, or request your copy at gty.org. A reminder, too, we appreciate hearing how Grace To You is helping you grow spiritually. If you've never written, or if it's been a while, jot a quick note to share your story, and be sure to include the call letters of this station when you write. That's a big help for us. Our email, letters at gty.org.
That's letters at gty.org. Or you can write to us at Grace To You, Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412. And thanks for remembering that Grace To You is supported by faithful friends like you. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson, inviting you back for our next broadcast when John looks at why nothing can stop God's amazing plan for His Kingdom. Be here for another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
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