“And he said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to describe it? It’s like a mustard seed that, when sown upon the soil, is the smallest of all the seeds on the ground. And when sown, it comes up and grows taller than all the garden plants, and produces large branches, so that the birds of the sky can nest in its shade.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We love underdog stories. The greater the odds are stacked against the eventual winner, the more we cheer for them. Underdogs always start out small. That’s why they are underdogs. But the growth they show is always beyond what anyone might have suspected. Jesus says this is what the kingdom of God is like. Check this out with me.
When our oldest came home from his last day of kindergarten, he came laden with a Dixie cup filled with dirt and a tiny little sprout sticking out of it. They had planted sunflowers a few weeks before the end of the year and they were just starting to grow. He was pretty excited about it and so a couple of days later we went out to the yard and planted it.
At first it was pretty hard to keep track of it. It was a tiny little sprout and right in the middle of the season when the weeds in our front landscaping were making their early summer appearance in earnest. But, we carefully kept an eye on it, gave it plenty of water, and watched to see the magic unfold.
Over the course of the next several weeks it began to grow. And grow. And grow. Then it bloomed into that giant sunflower face we all know and love. Then it grew some more. By the time late August rolled around that tiny little sprout he had brought home from kindergarten that looked like it was barely going to make it, had reached about eight feet in height. From half and inch to eight feet. It was amazing! I hated pulling it out the ground when it finally started to wither from age. Who would imagine that kind of growth could come from such a small seed?
Jesus would, that’s who.
We like to think of Jesus as the ultimate winner. I mean, He defeated death and sits at the right hand of the throne of God. Hard to be a bigger winner than that, right? But that’s not how He started His journey on earth. He started it in the most humble, shame-filled circumstances imaginable. During His ministry, while He attracted huge crowds, they ultimately all turned on Him. His disciples ran out on Him at His moment of greatest need. His own family thought He was crazy. There was nothing about Him that anyone should have expected big things.
The movement He started went about the same way. When He started saying the really weird stuff, most of the crowds gave up on Him as crowds are wont to do. After He died and even on the morning He rose, all He had to advance His cause were a handful of demoralized followers who still didn’t really grasp what was happening. When He left once again to make room for the Holy Spirit to come, there were 120 men and women who didn’t really know what to do. There was no church. There was no social structure. There was no popular support. There was only a message most folks thought was insane.
And then it grew. And grew. And grew. And suddenly the whole of Jerusalem was filled with His followers. Then they were expelled from the city so they took their faith with them and the movement started taking root all over the region. Then Paul was converted and it started blossoming all over the Empire. Then, just a few generations later, the Roman Empire itself accepted the Gospel. The ends of the earth no longer seemed like such a stretch.
This is what the kingdom of God does. It’s always done this. It will always do this until it truly has covered the globe and Christ returns. Because of the sin-tinted lenses we use to see the world, the kingdom of God will never look like much when we first encounter it. When Billy Graham accepted the Gospel and the Spirit’s call to preach he was just an earnest kid with a winsome smile. By the time he died a few years ago he had preached to literally hundreds of millions of people and in nearly every nation in the world.
But we don’t have to think that big. Make this personal. When the kingdom of God took root in your own heart–if indeed it has taken root in your own heart–it seemed like nothing. You may have felt a little swell of emotion, but probably not more than that. Then you began to change. You saw things differently than you used to see them. You reacted to situations differently than you used to react to them. You engaged with people in different terms. And it was good. Then it got better. The kingdom grows. That’s what it does.
If you let the kingdom loose in your heart and life, it will grow. That’s what it does. Now, we often try to keep pretty tight reins on it so the growth doesn’t get beyond our ability to control it. Whole churches do the same thing. When we do that its growth will only ever reach the limits of our capabilities which are small. But when we get out of the way and simply following His leading obediently, not even the sky poses a meaningful limit for what might happen. And this shouldn’t surprise us a bit. After all, twelve men and a message changed the world. Imagine what over 2 billion people could do if we just let Him work through us. Imagine what you could do if you just let Him work through you.