So what do we take away from the message of these parables about kingdom growth? What’s the application? What does this all mean for us today? A few thoughts ...
1. Be Patient - It's Guaranteed!
Like The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, these parables teach us that God does have a plan for this world and he is working to accomplish it. However, it is unfolding over time and that means there’s some waiting to do, something we find difficult. We’d all love God to do more and to act faster in bringing in his kingdom but Jesus is teaching us patience – the patience of a God who chooses to delay his judgment. God is not in a hurry and we must be prepared to trust him and wait for his time. In the end, God will win and good will overcome evil.
These parables are all about waiting … the farmer waiting for the tree to grow and the woman waiting for loaf of bread to rise. The kingdom is like this! It is also a call to trust and patience. God’s plan will advance … in his way and time.
James, the brother of Jesus, picks this theme up later in a letter he wrote. "Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near (James 5:7-8)."
Patience includes a sense of peace – we don't have to make the kingdom grow. God is doing that.
2. Be Encouraged - It's Happening!
These parables answers questions such as: “How can Jesus claim to have brought the kingdom of God and yet have been so unsuccessful?” “How can Jesus proclaim the kingdom of God and not be more active in bringing it?”
Jesus’ disciples had high hopes for Jesus and wanted him to do more than he was doing. To the disciples, the very mention of the “kingdom” meant greatness and glory. They thought of the days of David and Solomon and the promise that the last day house would be even greater (Haggai 2:9). All the signs were there, as Jesus did miracles and talked about the kingdom. But it would be different – much different – and Jesus needed to prepare them for that. God’s ways are often opposite to ours! God loves to start small (ask Gideon!) and to go slow.
The kingdom of God will experience phenomenal growth. Its growth will be extensive and external/outward (like the surprising growth of the mustard seed) and intensive and internal/inward (like yeast that influences an entire batch of dough, though it works silently and is completely hidden from sight). The focus is the promise of the end … not so much on the details of the period of growth. It’s all a mystery - don't try to figure it out just thank God that it works.
Jesus’ aim is to give encouragement to his disciples, especially for times when they would experience questioning and doubting, and of frustration, possibly by times of small response to their message or of little evident fruit from their efforts. Yes, there are often signs of the kingdom, but it does continue to remain ambiguous and even hidden at times. Don’t be discouraged by slow or small beginnings.
We are to have hope and confidence about the future. The kingdom is already underway and it will not be stopped, despite its insignificant beginnings. Don’t let the present inconspicuous form of the kingdom fool you from understanding its final result. The kingdom expansion at work right now is unseen, silent … yet inevitable. This is a call to encouragement, confidence, hope and assurance – by taking the long view. The very nature of the kingdom and the way God has designed it involves a small inception leading to a grand consummation.
3. Take Action - You Can Make a Difference!
Your impact can be great, even through small acts. It's like a ripple effect. Your life has such great potential. God has begun a good work in you (as small as it may seem) and he will complete it (Philippians 1:6). Don’t under-estimate your own personal dreams and calling. God sees what you can become, not just what you are now. He sees our potential, not just our past, and he calls us to align ourselves with his kingdom work in the world. You can have a significant ministry. It may not be prominent, but you can make a difference in someone's life. Of course, we can’t force the kingdom’s arrival through our human effort or build the kingdom … we can simply align ourselves with God's work and take actions that demonstrate its reality in our lives and our world. We have one life to live. Let's make a difference in our world ... for Jesus Christ. Touch one life today, just like Jesus did in healing one woman that Sabbath 2,000 years ago. That's how the kingdom works - one life at a time.
As Scot McKnight says, “A mustard seed is considered by Jesus’ contemporaries the smallest of seeds. The kingdom, Jesus is saying is not like a palatial paradise but a small seed. It is like mustard plant, not like a tall sequoia or a powerful oak. Why does mustard seed attract comparison to the kingdom of God? Because for Jesus the kingdom is about the ordinariness of loving God and loving others. The kingdom is as common as sparrows, as earthy as backyard bushes, as routine as breakfast coffee, as normal as aging. He hallows the ordinary act of love, making it extraordinary ... the kingdom of God is the transforming presence of God in ordinary humans.”