Humble Roots - Matthew 13:31-33
“If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?... Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world (pg. 158-159).”
That’s a quote from Jordan Peterson’s best-seller 12 Rules for Life.
He’s addressing what many point out as an issue with my millennial generation. It’s common to see folks my age voicing their opinions on all sorts of controversial topics they have no expertise in. Perhaps my generation thinks our opinions matter because they have a public platform thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
What’s really interesting, is often, the same folks who are quick to voice their opinions on all these controversial topics don’t really have their own lives in order. Isn’t it hypocritical for someone whose life is marked by irresponsibility and instability to tell someone who actually is shouldering their responsibilities how they should live their life?
In that particular chapter of his book, Peterson makes the point that if you can’t solve the small problems of your life, why should anyone listen to your thoughts about changing the big problems of the world?
According to Peterson, we must order our own lives, before we critique the way the world is. Because real and lasting change begins with you and me.
It’s good advice but it’s a tough pill to swallow. We all want change. Who doesn’t want this world to be a better place? But don’t we all think real change begins with everything and everyone else? If my circumstances changed, if the government changed… if my spouse changed - then everything would be different.
Matthew 13:31-33 shows us that the Kingdom of Heaven works inside-out. The gospel transforms individuals who in turn, transform the world. Don’t we all long to see the Kingdom of Heaven going out in power in order to transform the world? But before we will ever see this world changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, it has to change us first.
As God’s Kingdom comes, the world will change and so will you and me.
As God’s Kingdom comes, the World Will Change (vv. 31-32).
Last week we looked at the parable of the weeds and how Jesus Christ cares and looks after the church while Satan seeks to destroy it.
Even though this battle rages on, we know the outcome. We know that the Lord will be victorious. Our passage this morning really deals with how our Heavenly King will conquer hostile, enemy controlled territory.
Look at verses 31 and 32 with me.
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
In Luke 17, Jesus compares one’s faith to a mustard seed, but here he’s drawing a different comparison. He’s comparing a mustard seed to the kingdom of heaven.
A mustard seed is extremely small in size but it grows into a large tree by comparison. The mustard tree can grow so large birds can nest in it. The kingdom of heaven is similar. It had a small humble beginning.
The Kingdom of Heaven is made up of all born again believers whose hearts have been conquered by the Lord God Almighty. And the Kingdom of Heaven grows as the Lord continues to transform the hearts of men and women.
Initially, it was Jesus and his disciples against the world. A handful of folks on the forefront of what will become the most powerful movement in the history of the world. Jesus Christ redeeming the lost, bringing men and women from spiritual death to spiritual life.
But just as the mustard tree starts as a tiny seed and grows into a large tree, the kingdom of heaven will grow into a worldwide movement. The gospel was going to all people, both Jews and Greeks.
But here’s a major issue with Christ’s parable: just as it takes time for a mustard seed to grow into a large tree, the kingdom of heaven will take time to grow as well.
At this point in Jesus’ ministry everything wasn’t crystal clear. Many of the disciples and followers of Jesus were still waiting for a military conquest. They were convinced that Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman government and put the nation of Israel back on top! But that’s never what Jesus intended.
How disappointing for the disciples to hear Jesus’ parable and think: What, it takes a while for a mustard seed to become a tree, Jesus… How long are we going to have to wait for you to establish your physical, earthly kingdom?
You see, they wanted the kingdom of Israel to be reestablished right now. They wanted a new world order!
But that’s not the way God operates. He wasn’t establishing a physical kingdom. He was establishing a spiritual kingdom. And He’s establishing His kingdom on his terms. We want to see instant change in this world.
There’s this plant in my front yard that just randomly sprouted up a few weeks ago. I was totally convinced it was a weed, and I was planning on pulling it up.
But Lauren and my neighbor weren’t convinced. So I left it alone and let it grow. Turns out it’s a zucchini plant.
We aren’t sure exactly how the seed ventured into our yard, but I have a hunch that it has something to do with the huge garden in our neighbor’s backyard.
The seeds in that garden are venturing out of our neighbors yard and into ours. I wasn’t expecting to grow a zucchini in my front yard, and yet it sprouted up to our surprise.
The disciples were about to witness the gospel spreading and Jesus’ spiritual kingdom growing, starting out as a small mustard seed.
Normally, it seems when believers think about spreading the gospel we think, we need to leave that to the professionals: the pastors and missionaries. But that’s really just avoiding our God given responsibility as soldiers in the Kingdom of Heaven. We must share the good news of Jesus Christ with folks that are lost and dying.
A lot of times we put way too much pressure on ourselves. We think if we’re faithful to share the good news of Jesus Christ then we need to see immediate results.
And if we don’t see a radical transformation then we must have done something wrong. Maybe we said the wrong thing. Or maybe we didn’t explain the gospel just right.
And we get impatient. We forget that just a few verses earlier in Jesus’s parable of the sower - the gospel is like a seed and we have to patiently wait on growth. The problem is we want faster growth.
But God is working according to his timeline, which often requires patience from you and me. With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
We have no perspective and how He’s growing His Kingdom and it doesn’t always make sense to us. We rush over to cut down a weed that really isn’t a weed at all.
We have to wait for the mustard seed to grow into a tree. We have to wait on the transformation that we long to see. God’s grace is seen is His patience.
The Bible tells us that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. In other words, God is patient with all people. He causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. We don’t often think that way. You can often spot an ungracious spirit by a lack of patience. I think Stacey would agree with me, but church planting is a real test of patience.
I sometimes daydream about showing up to Briggs and 250 people are here waiting to hear the gospel. Wouldn’t that be great? But my fantasy world isn’t reality and Good Shepherd isn’t my church. God is building his church on his timeline. I want to see God through the ministry of Good Shepherd impact Florence.
It’s easy to think of church planting like that famous line from the Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”
But what we want to see isn’t always a part of God’s plan. We’re like Jonah hoping that God will strike down the Ninivites rather than save them. Maybe instead of praying for the Lord to radically change our culture we need to pray that the Lord would radically save the lost.
You see, the two are inextricably connected. In order for our culture and world to change - the hearts of men and women must change. Souls must be redeemed. The lost must be converted.
But the buck doesn’t stop with the people “out there in the world.” We need to pray for the gospel to change us as well.
As God’s Kingdom comes, You Will Change (vv. 33).
The parable of the mustard seed focused on the external growth and influence of God’s expanding kingdom. The parable about leaven is both similar and different to the mustard seed parable.
Look at verse 33.
He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
“Three measures of flour” would’ve created a huge batch. But the point of the parable is a small amount of leaven can rise a huge batch of dough.
The idea is very similar to the mustard seed parable. Something that starts small can have a great impact. But notice the difference between the two parables: the mustard seed grows outwardly but the leaven grows inwardly.
The mustard seed parable really addresses how the gospel would spread around the globe. It’s an image of the Kingdom of Heaven moves forward. But the leaven parable forces you and me to answer this question: Is the gospel growing in you?
Being a follower of Jesus Christ requires you to grow in your faith. A lot of people think that once they’re born again that’s really it. From there, it’s simply maintenance. But, really salvation is just the beginning. If you’re not growing spiritually, and you have no desire to grow spiritually, you might not be saved.
You see, the gospel should be like leaven growing, spreading throughout your body. It should impact every aspect of your life - your relationship with your family, your relationship with your coworkers. Everything you touch should be touched by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So when you think about the gospel as leaven growing within you it forces you to ask yourself a couple of questions:
Is your faith in Jesus Christ growing? Or is your faith a Sunday ritual? Before the gospel can transform this world, it has to transform you. True transformation must first take place in your heart.
As many of you know, we just wrapped up a men’s book study and started a women’s book study on John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin.The book is really all about putting sin in your life to death.
But he devotes an entire chapter to “Only Believers Can Mortify Sin”. In that chapter he uses an illustration: He says, “When the Spirit of Christ comes to the work, He works ‘like a refiner’s fire’ and he will purge men as gold and silver, take away their dross and tin, their filth and blood. BUT men must be gold and silver before the refiner’s fire will work... Men may refine bronze and iron forever, but they will not become good silver (pg 42-43).”
Owen’s point is simply this: You have to be a believer in Jesus Christ in order to put sin to death. A person who changes sinful patterns apart from Christ is a legalist. In order for real change to take place in your life you first need to be born again.
An unbeliever trying to kill sin is like refining bronze or iron forever hoping it’ll miraculously become gold or silver. The refining process will never change the metal.
I think Christ’s point with the parable of the leaven is similar. In order for the gospel to transform the world it must first change you and me. The kingdom of heaven, true gospel transformation, works inside out. The gospel certainly saves us, but it also sanctifies us. It grows us. It pushes us. It conforms us.
We want God to transform the world but we don’t necessarily want God to transform us. We like the status quo. We’re fine with the way that we are.
I began this sermon with a quote from Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life. He said, “set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.”
He really is on to something with his suggestion that focusing on personal changes can lead to big ones. But he’s profoundly wrong about something.
You see, he assumes the agent of change is you. The implication of the chapter is if you just try a little harder and actually discipline yourself - you can set your house in order. And if you’re able to set your house in order ,then you can set the world in order.
His whole message is about YOU. What YOU can do. How if you can make YOURSELF better then YOU can make the world better. The parables of Jesus make a very different point. You’re not the source of true transformation - God is.
You see, God threw the seed. He leavened the lump. God is transforming the world according to his timeline. But that earth-shaking transformation begins with you and me. God has to transform us.
Do you view yourself as a simple lump of dough? Do you want the gospel to actually change you? Here’s a simple test for you: when was the last time you prayed for the Lord to change you?
By praying that prayer, and genuinely meaning it, you humble yourself and demonstrate to God that you view yourself as a mere lump of dough. A simple vessel for Him to work through.
But if you don’t pray that prayer because you don’t want God to change you - you may not be a believer. There’s no doubt that God can and will change you. But do you want to be changed?
I titled this sermon Humble Roots because God grew His church from something so insignificant. The kingdom of Heaven began in such a humble fashion.
In a similar way, you and I must humble ourselves before God so that he may work in and through us. We need to be willing to echo the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Once you find yourself humbled and prostrate before God - that’s when He’ll will leaven you -- that’s when you’ll rise -- not for yourself, but for Him and His Kingdom.
Let’s pray together.