The Mustard Seed: From Tiny Beginnings to an Immeasurable Empire (Mark Sermon 20)
June 19, 2022 | Andrew Davis
Evangelism, Majesty of God
Pastor Andy Davis preaches on the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Mark 4:30-34, and unfolds Jesus’ developed manifesto for his plan of worldwide gospel advance.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
Prayer: Father, we thank you for the life that we have together, the life that we share. I thank you for the way that we are a family of families and singles who know and love you. And we are involved in each other's lives. I thank you for the Monteros and just the things that we just heard. I'm grateful for their example, role models on how we can use our home as a basis for the gospel. I'm grateful for that. Lord, we thank you for this opportunity in our secular society, this is a designated Father's Day, but we know what a rich, full, beautiful theme fatherhood is. And the fatherhood of God is in the Bible. And Lord, for me, I always think about the father of the prodigal son, who is so filled with love and delight at his sinful son, repenting and coming back and wanting to be with his father. In this cycle of parables that Jesus told of the joy in heaven, over one sinner who repents. Lord, I pray that we who are fathers would be that kind of a father, a loving, merciful, strong, godly man pointing to the fatherhood of God. God, who is a loving and tender hearted father, who is the perfect father. And I pray Lord that we who are fathers would be recommitted to that powerful ministry. Lord, we know that we can't be perfect, but as Jesus himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And Jesus' whole ministry is to bring people to the Father. We also know that the sign of the new covenant is the spirit of adoption by which we cry out “Abba Father” within us. And we look forward more and more to the delight of that relationship with you, our heavenly Father. And now Lord, we ask that you would send forth that same spirit who ministers to us, testifying with our spirits, that we are children of God. But I pray that now that specific ministry would be in the illumination of the Scripture, the enlightenment, that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened so that we would understand this parable of the mustard seed, and that we'd be able to understand how it applies to the growing kingdom of God around the world. I pray that you give me special insight and special clarity and special ability to speak in a way that brings about that illumination, that enlightenment. So Lord, speak to us by the Spirit. May the eyes of our hearts be enlightened to understand this passage. And Lord, help us to put into practice the things that we can do in terms of the spreading of the gospel. You've given us a role to play in this cycle of parables in Mark four helps prepare us for that, to help us today to understand. In Jesus' name, amen.
I. The Fruit of the Mustard Seed Remembered
Turn in your Bibles to Mark 4. What an incredible journey we're making through the Gospel of Mark. It's the great privilege of my life to be able to get up here week after week and exalt Jesus Christ in front of you, to speak of the greatness of our savior of Jesus Christ based on the words of the Gospel of Mark. It's just a great privilege of my life and I'm delighted to do it. Today we're going to look at this Parable of the Mustard Seed. Think in your mind, go back in time to a day, I don't know what month it would've been, maybe April, maybe May, 1989 years ago, maybe almost 2000 years ago, to the most powerful man on earth, the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Imagine him having a meal with some of his close friends or maybe family members. Suddenly, a messenger comes rushing in breathlessly and begs for immediate attention. The room becomes eerily silent. The guests apprehensively put down their goblets to listen to this vital message. Tiberius Caesar Augustus beckons the man forward. The man bows and says, "I have news, almighty Caesar. A Jewish carpenter was crucified in Judea. Furthermore, a small group of 120 Jews who were following him are praying in a small upper room in the city of Jerusalem." Imagine the mighty emperor staring blankly at him. That's it? His Roman empire was the largest the world had ever seen, almost 2 million square miles; as much as one quarter of the world's population, perhaps as many as 60 million people under his daily domination. He commanded the mightiest and most dominant military the world had ever seen, over 300,000 Roman legions that kept a forced peace and Roman rule on all those conquered territories. At Tiberius' slightest word, the world trembled. His policy shaped the lives of all the people who lived under his crushing domination. Why would he possibly care about something so insignificant as the death of a single Jewish man in one of his smaller provinces 1,450 miles away from Rome? Why would he have any interest at all in some tiny band of 120 Jewish fanatics who were praying and waiting in some shabby, second story room in a dusty city of the far east? Why would he possibly care about that? Yet, from that tiny beginning, from a small black granule called a mustard seed, He has spread a mighty kingdom that will outlast every human empire. It came from a microscopic beginning and has come into vast immeasurable glory. That's what today's parable is all about.
Jesus' death was the mustard seed, as were the sacrifices of all his courageous servants to advance the gospel step by step from Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria to the Gentile worlds north, south, east, west from Jerusalem, so that's my approach to this parable. Centrally, it is about Jesus and his death and his growing kingdom. But secondarily, also as a pattern that Christianity follows again and again and again, of small seeds planted that start out insignificantly and grow explosively. Mustard seed after mustard seed dying and causing growth, all of that mysteriously building a spiritual kingdom of genuinely converted souls so vast you can scarcely imagine it. Within three short centuries, and the world moved a lot more slowly back then than it does now, Christianity would explode from the upper room in Jerusalem and conquer, spiritually conquer the mighty Roman empire. So vast and powerful and rapid was that spread that a Roman emperor, Constantine, declared himself to be a worshiper of that Jewish carpenter three short centuries later. Now that would've been inconceivable to Tiberius, but Constantine, whatever he actually believes saw it beneficial. But King Jesus had much bigger designs than the confines of the Roman empire and the limits of just a few centuries. The kingdom of God has grown in every generation, vast, hidden, powerful, eternal life and growth surging through it, so vast it's almost inconceivable how big his kingdom really is. We can't even picture what a multitude greater than anyone could count would look like from every tribe, language, people, and nation.
Today's parable predicted that staggering, stunning, glorious earth-shaking growth, the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Simply put, the lesson of this parable is this, the kingdom of God starts small and grows large. In the words of Zechariah 4:10, “we should not despise the day of small things.” Before I go on into the rest of the sermon, I just wonder if we could take a poll worldwide of 7 billion people plus. How many do you think know Tiberius today? How many people know Jesus Christ today? How would you compare the fame on those two? Just an interesting question. You ought to do that this week. Ask 20, or 30 people that you know, and say, "Have you ever heard of Tiberius", and see what they say. Come back and give me some stories on those conversations. It'd be interesting where they lead.
The context here in Mark 4 is a series of parables. At the end of the section that you just heard read, this was a strategy that Jesus gave of teaching in parables. He did not say anything without using a parable, but when He was alone with his disciples, He would explain everything. So again, as with all the gospels, we're only getting a small sampling of Jesus' teaching, ministry, and of his works. John said that he didn't share everything in his writing because if he did the whole world couldn't contain the books that would be written. So we just have a small sampling of Jesus' teaching ministry and much smaller in Mark than in Matthew and Luke and John. Less of the verbiage of Mark's gospel is given to Jesus's teachings than to any of the other gospels. But we have this in Mark 4, this cycle of parables.
In Mark 1-3, we have the growing spread of the kingdom of God through the ministry of Jesus Christ resulting in huge crowds, overwhelming crowds, crushing, pressing in on him. They're attracted by Jesus' message, but especially by his stunning power over demons and disease and death. But very few of that huge crowd are genuinely converted, very few were there for the true food of the word with hearts and fire for Christ, entering the kingdom of God by faith. Very few. To make matters worse, the official Jewish religious leaders position on him was that He was doing all of these amazing signs by the power of Satan, that He was a blasphemer and a fraud. Jesus says this is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The authorities hated Jesus. He certainly was not winning them as friends or influencing them as people, not at all. As an act of judgment then, Jesus taught the crowds in parables that He never explains, then He withdraws in secret with his tiny band of followers. The parables themselves were not the judgment, the lack of explanation of the parables, that was the judgment, just giving the parable and walking away.
Along with this was the seeming failure of Jesus' kingdom to take genuine root in very many hearts. Jesus didn't seem to be winning, the kingdom didn't seem to be working. Jesus' disciples, reading various key passages in the Old Testament, had every reason to expect a vast worldwide messianic domain. Isaiah 9:7 spoke of a kingdom that would last forever, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord almighty will accomplish this, an eternal kingdom.” Isaiah 49 speaks of a worldwide dominion that would extend to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 49:6, God says to Christ, “It is too smaller thing for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” —so to the end of time, Isaiah 9:7, to the ends of the earth, Isaiah 49:6.
Isaiah 60 also speaks in glowing terms of the wealth, the richness of the worldwide dominion of Messiah. In Isaiah 60: 3-5, “Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around you. All assemble and come to you. Your sons come from afar. Your daughters are carried on the arm. Then you will look and be radiant. Your heart will throb and swell with joy. The wealth on the seas will be brought to you. To you, the riches of the nations will come.” Solomon's majestic Psalm 72, a messianic Psalm, exults in the eternal glorious reign of the Messiah. In Psalm 72: 5-11, speaking of the Messiah, the Christ, “He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. In his days, the righteous will flourish. Prosperity will abound until the moon is no more. He will rule from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth. The desert tribes will bow down before him. His enemies will lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him. The kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.” These are just some of the Old Testament prophecies that gave the Jews a very powerful expectation of what the messianic kingdom would be like. There are many others I could read. But instead of this glorious kingdom, most of the Jews at that time, led by their unbelieving jealous, power-hungry leaders were rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.
Jesus responds by telling these parables with no explanation, leading many of his enemies to say He was demon possessed or out of his mind since these unexplained stories made no sense. Now, privately his disciples were probably wondering similar things. If we just boil it down to, “Is this really it? Is this it? I mean us?” In Luke 13:23, “Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’” Think about that question. What's behind that question? “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved? Is it going to be a real small kind of ragged band here? Even John the Baptist at the end of his life, wondered the same thing. He's in prison waiting to die, and “When John heard in prison, what Christ was doing [Matthew 11:2-3] he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” What is motivating that question? A number of things. But some of it must have been a sense of disappointment at what was happening. It didn't seem like it was big. It didn't seem glorious. Jesus is in some house surrounded by a small, weak band of common people who loved his teachings, and those were the best of the vast crowd that surrounded him and mobbed him day after day for healings. This hardly seemed like the beginning of a vast, glorious Davidic kingdom, a messianic kingdom in which the Gentiles would come and bow down before him.
In Mark 4, all of the parables taken together are a glorious, very efficient manifesto on what's going to happen with the kingdom and with the gospel. It includes explanations for people's rejection of the gospel, as well as their acceptance of it. It begins with the parable, the seed and the soils, which we went through. In this most important parable, Jesus gives indications that it's really a gateway parable, that if you understand that parable, you'll understand them all. If you don't understand this parable, you won't understand any of them. So the kingdom of God is like seed that's spread on different soils. Three of the soils produce no final harvest at all. The path, the rocky soil, the thorny soil, they produce no final harvest. Three of the soils produce a harvest of varying levels, 30, 60, even a hundred times what was sown, so do not despise the day of small things, we're getting to that with the mustard seed, instead be very careful what kind of soil, your own soul, your own heart is. That's what matters. Be very careful what kind of soil your heart is. Jesus says the explanations are for the insiders, not for the outsiders at the present time. But the day will come, when the light of the word of God will shine brightly for all to see. Jesus is the light of the world and God did not bring that light into the world to hide under a bowl or a bed. Look at verses 22-23, “Whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out in the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” In other words, for now, in the context of Mark 4, “for now, my teachings are secret and hidden, but they're not meant to be that way ultimately. We're going to bring them out and it's going to be shining throughout the world. So the real issue is, you better look after yourself. Look after how you hear the word of God. You better be very careful what's going on inside of you when you hear the gospel.” Verse 24-25, “Consider carefully how you hear. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you and even more. Whoever has, will be given more. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” If you receive the word of God, the gospel, if you grow in it, you're going to accelerate in that growth, you're going to produce more and more fruit. The measure you use will be measured to you and even more. But for those who hear and do nothing with the word, even what they have is going to be taken from them. So they may have some early understanding of the gospel, some basic understanding but after a while, their hearts will be so hard they won't get anything out of it.
Last week again, in verses 26-29, we had an agricultural parable and there the sower is scattering seed everywhere. We end up focusing on one plant and the dynamics of the growth of that one plant, this was last week. He said this is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scattered seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows though, he does not know how. All by itself, the soil produces grain. First, the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. Then as soon as the grain is right, he puts the sickle to it because the harvest has come. The basic idea is this, people are responsible to spread the word of God, but God alone can make it grow. They can't do anything to the actual individual inside their heart to bring them to faith in Christ. They can't save them. They can't bring about life. They don't know how that happens, they can't make it happen. They're limited in knowledge, they don't understand the process. They're limited in power. They can't make it happen. But what they can do is they can scatter the seed and then they can take part in the harvest of bringing somebody to Christ. So that was last week.
Now in today's parable, Jesus is saying, no matter how apparently small the beginnings, the kingdom of God in the end will be immense and spectacular. Wait for it. Don't give up on it just because it appears small. So that's what we're getting to now. Let's dig in and look at it, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, verses 30- 32. Again, He said, what should we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It's like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of garden plants with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch its shade. So what is a parable? What does that mean? The Greek word means “to lay alongside,” simply put, it's “this is like that.” We're taking the invisible, mysterious, difficult to understand kingdom of God and we're explaining some aspect of it by something in everyday life that you are very familiar with. So it means to “lay alongside”, the kingdom is like this thing. Jesus was fond of agricultural parables. He used a lot of them. They weren't the only type, but they were the most dominant type, seeds and soils and plants and things growing. In general, in terms of interpretation of scripture, parables are best when you focus on the main idea and don't go down rabbit trails of details. Although, I think we can even take that idea too far and say the details are in no way important. You still want to be careful with the details. Don't allegorize, them something like that. So the details are important, but really you want to start with the main idea.
And what's the main idea of the parable of the mustard seed? It starts small and gets big. That's the basic idea. Don't worry about the apparent failure of the gospel. The kingdom of God has a small beginning, but in a measurably, glorious and big way, it's going to be really big. Friends, this thing's going to be big. I'm trying to picture. Can you picture what hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of genuine born again people look like in radiant robes? What's the biggest crowd you've ever seen? It's not hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions. So it's going to be really big, but there's going to be a temptation to be discouraged, because it so frequently looks so small and unimpressive. That's what we're getting at here.
“The kingdom of God has a small beginning, but in a measurably, glorious and big way, it's going to be really big.”
Now we have a problem with this whole mustard seed thing. R.C. Sproul spoke of his involvement with the Council for Biblical Inerrancy and he said in that process, he interacted with a former evangelical scholar who is no longer evangelical. He had abandoned his commitment to biblical inerrancy, specifically on the issue of the mustard seed. Jesus was wrong about the mustard seed, so He must be wrong about everything else. I'm like, “oh my goodness.” All seeds are small, but they weren't impressively, staggeringly small. So I get it. I get the problem.However, I think we should be astounded that an scholar would give up his commitment to inerrancy on this issue. Would you agree with me on that? First of all, what Sproul says is we should not take Jesus' words and extend them to some universal laser accurate statement in every case. They don't work like that. Jesus' statements don't work like that. The gospels don't work like that. For example, in Mark 1:45, it says people came to him from everywhere. Stop right there. Did anybody come from Durham, North Carolina? How about Antarctica? Anybody from the moon? There, that's a place. Look, nobody reads it like that. It says people came to him from everywhere, we kind of just know what that means, from wide areas around. It wasn't just that one town. I think we get it. Secondly, we don't actually know for sure what species of mustard seed he was talking about. We don't know that the seeds in my wife's spice cabinet are the same as what he was dealing with. They probably weren't. Maybe a completely different genetic category. An expert on YouTube was saying that there are different types of mustard plants, and he actually had in his hand, a cluster of black mustard seeds. They were unbelievably tiny. They look like black powder. They would be the smallest seeds I've ever seen. They didn't look like seeds. Like I said, they just looked like black powder. He pulled a seed off to the side or a little cluster of them because you couldn't get just one. And the camera zoomed in and I'm telling you, these seeds were smaller than the tip of a pin. It was not smaller than the head of the pin, it was smaller than the pointy tip. That's how small the seed was. So I'm going with that. Thirdly, we need to understand in Jewish rabbinic speech, this was a common aphorism. It's like “small as a mustard seed.” It was actually known, Jesus wasn't the first to use it, it’s something really small. So there's like small, smaller and smallest and the mustard seed was how the rabbis talked about smallest, so this was actually common. The point here is it starts small and grows, the growth of the seed. Jesus says it grows and becomes a small tree, the largest of all garden plants. So no, it does not get as big as a Cedar of Lebanon, but it gets really big. We're talking about the kind of plants that a family would have in a family garden. You can imagine something like that. Research shows that these types of mustard plants would grow as tall as a man, or taller. That's very big for a small garden patch. Jesus says that they become a tree with such big branches that the birds of the air can settle down perhaps or nest or at least perch in the shade. So they're very big, strong branches. Translated, the kingdom of God is going to start very small, almost microscopic, very small and grow to something vast and broad and dramatic and amazing.
In my mind, I connect this to the story of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel 4. What happens is Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, has a dream. Let me read Daniel 4:10- 12, “I looked and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land, its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky. It was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant. And on it was food for all. Under it, the beasts of the field found shelter and the birds of the air lived in its branches. From it, every creature was fed.” It's a dream, a vast fruit tree, but very tall, very strong, with big branches and lots of shade. Animals were coming in the shade on the ground, birds on the branches, people eating from the fruit of the tree. Daniel then interpreted the dream. Daniel 4:20- 22, “The tree you saw,” [he's speaking to King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire], which grew large and strong with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beast of the field and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air. You, oh king, are that tree. You have become great and strong and your greatness is grown until it reaches the sky. And your dominion extends to the distant parts of the earth.” So Nebuchadnezzar as the head or the king of the Babylonian empire is represented by a vast fruitful, huge leafy tree and everything is clustered around it. In the dream, that tree is condemned to be chopped down, its branches stripped off, the fruits stripped off. The whole thing's laid to waste in that dream. But the tree of the kingdom of God will never be chopped down, it'll never be stripped or laid to waste. Going back two chapters before that in Daniel 2, a different image of the statue with the head of gold, and chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, and legs of iron feet, that whole thing represents a series of empires. Then a stone comes, cut out, but not by human hands, strikes that statue, crushes it, and then it becomes a mountain that fills a whole earth, the kingdom of God. It says in Daniel 2:44, “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed nor will it be left to another people.” Or as Nebuchadnezzar would say himself, as he wrote chapter 4, as he gave his testimony in Daniel 4, speaking of the kingdom of God, “His dominion is an eternal dominion, his kingdom endures from generation and generation.” So here's the thing, back to the mustard seed. The kingdom of God will be a mighty tree with a vast root system with innumerable leafy fruitful branches that will last forever. It represents people who come together and bring all of their riches and their glories and all of their salvation stories and all that together in one place, the kingdom of God, the new Jerusalem, the new heaven, new earth. That's what we're talking about here.
II. What is the Mustard Seed?
Now, what is the mustard seed? I believe we'll start with Jesus. Jesus is the first mustard seed, his life, his death, his resurrection represents that. We see this again and again with the lamp. Jesus is the lamp, and then we are the lamp. And so again, my approach on this parable is Jesus is the mustard seed, then we are the mustard seed. But first and foremost, we start with Jesus. We see that with the lamp in Mark 4:21, “Do you bring in a lamp and put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it up on its stand?” What's the lamp? Jesus is the lamp. He says in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Or again, Isaiah 9:2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light and those living the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.” But then Jesus said, we are the light of the world. So He's the light of the world, and we’re the light of the world. Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. City on a hill cannot be hidden, neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” So Jesus is the first great light of the world. Then we, following his example, we are also are light to the world. Same thing with the seed, the mustard seed. Or again in John 12:24-26, Jesus said this. “I tell you the truth. Unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself a single seed. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.” What is the seed that falls in the ground and dies, and if it dies, it brings forth much fruit? Jesus' own death is the first fulfillment of that. But you know this is a pattern that He is commending, that we would all follow going forward. He makes that plain by the next few verses in John 12. “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit. The man who loves his life will lose it while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” That's pretty obvious. He's calling us to be seeds that fall in the ground and die. If you're willing to do that, if you're willing to fall into the ground and die, you're going to bear much fruit. I'm thinking about hospitality. You say, "But Pastor, I'm an introvert." Well, just practice saying that to Jesus on Judgment Day. “Jesus, you know I'm an introvert. I couldn't do that hospitality thing.” Just picture how that will wash on that day. Once you conclude that will not wash on that day, then be hospitable. “It feels like death to walk across the street and meet my neighbor.” We’ve got to talk about that at a lot of levels. I understand that feeling, but the fact of the matter is I believe John 12:24-26 is talking first about Jesus and then about all of us. It's pretty obvious. He died and rose again and look at all the fruit that's come from that. Therefore, if we die, fall into the ground and die, look at the fruit that'll come from our lives.
Let's bring that back to the mustard seed. Jesus lived a life, very short ministry time, could have easily never been noticed, falls in the ground and dies, rises again from the dead and establishes the beginning of the kingdom. One hundred twenty believers, a little mustard seed. Then he is calling on us to do the same thing. Guess what's going to happen? We're going to go and minister and the stuff we do is not going to be very impressive initially. But don't be disappointed, don't be discouraged, don't despise the day of small things. Those things start small, but they can get really big. Jesus is going to use the mustard seed analogy later to talk about small acts of faith. They come to him and say, “Oh Lord, increase our faith.” Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, move from here to there and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” The smallest things we do can have an eternal impact. Church history's full of seemingly minor movements and moments that end up having a massive impact even for all eternity. We can easily become discouraged and say what difference does anything I do make at all. We can despise the day of small things[ Zachariah 4:10]. The Jews had come back after the exile, they're in rubble-filled Jerusalem. They got to rebuild the wall, but they also have to rebuild the temple. It's the center of the Jewish religion, the old covenant religion. They eventually do rebuild the temple, but the old timers remembered Solomon's temple in all of its glory, and they weeped and moaned and lamented over this small shabby looking substitute temple. Zachariah 4:10 says, “Do not despise the day of small things. God has the power to take small acts of obedience and make something great of it.”
“Don't be disappointed, don't be discouraged, don't despise the day of small things. Those things start small, but they can get really big. … The smallest things we do can have an eternal impact."
What are some examples of mustard seeds that we can plant? I think about the daily work of a mother singing, “Jesus Loves Me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” to her baby, and just doing that night after night, after night, after night, singing that song. Then all the other things that the mom does to pour the gospel into the growing child over the years. I'm telling you, she has some hard days. It doesn't look like the kingdom of God is growing inside this child. But don't despise the day of small things, the little beginning, you don't know what that child's going to grow to become. Or imagine a man who just makes it a habit to go to a certain coffee shop and get to know the baristas there and has a particular relationship with one of the baristas and feels led to just keep saturating that relationship, that conversation with gospel things like something we heard in church, or I'm praying for you or just different things. You can imagine one time making a comment and you don't have any idea that comment reminds that person of something that was said to them by a Christian relative or by a Christian roommate or friend years ago. You had no way of knowing what that comment would do. You had no way of knowing that they couldn't get to sleep that night because they knew something was up and the person comes to faith in Christ. But it's just some comment you made, you didn't even know the power of it, the impact of it. Little moments of faithful service, write an encouraging note on the bill and leave a good tip. You can leave a generous tip with something that you write to encourage the person. You never know if that comes at precisely at a time somebody's hurting for cash. You follow an inner-prompting from the Spirit, calling a lost friend from college, just to say hi, and you didn't realize that she was sliding toward suicide, toward depression. You had no idea. You didn't know what was going on. You just wanted to call and say, hello. A little thing, a little act of obedience. Or secret patterns of prayer for missionaries. We have missionaries that are serving on the field. You could just say on that day, I'm going to pray for this missionary family. We're going to lift them up and pray for them. You don't know, but that is exactly the moment they needed prayer, where there's something going on in their city, something with the security. Maybe their position's compromised or they're in some danger from persecution, or it could be just an opportunity like coffee shop or a person that they're meeting., and that's the time that you are praying for them.
Like the widow giving her two tiny copper coins and then together make up a fraction of a penny. How many children put in money in the offering plates going by? You don't have any idea what that pattern of giving is going to grow to in their lives, how generous they're going to be when they're adults, because they early on had that pattern of giving. The mustard seeds of faith, mustard seeds of sacrificial service, growing into big things later. A word, a prayer, a gift, an act of kindness, a gesture, encouraging note, or a Bible study you start and there's two people that show up. Don't worry about the numbers, just be faithful and teach God's word to the people that show up. Don't despise the day of small things.
How big is this thing going to get? Really big. The glorious consummation of Christ kingdom. Of course, there's this famous verse Revelation 7:9-10, “After this, I looked and there before me was a multitude greater than anyone could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language standing before the throne in front of the lamb wearing white robes and they're holding palm branches in their hands. And they were saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the lamb.’” Awesome. Picture it. It started shabby and small, one hundred twenty people in an upper room. That's it. Look how big it's going to be. In the language of Daniel 4 and Nebuchadnezzar's dream, “these are the fruit and the animals and the birds from the ends of the earth that come to live under the shade of Christ forever.” You know what I think? It's never going to stop growing. I think procreation will end, there won't be new people added to the kingdom, but it does say in Isaiah 97 of the increase of his government and peace, there will be no end. So just go with increase that never ends. How is that? In the estimation of the greatness of Christ in what he did to build his kingdom forever, that's a dynamic heaven. That's what I would commend to you.
From Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, the death of one man, Jesus Christ, changed all of human history. So also the tiny cluster of ordinary people, twelve apostles, and a few other people there in the upper room. Then the Holy Spirit poured out on them in the day of Pentecost, and they poured out in the streets to change the world. They moved out in Jerusalem. They spread out boldly from there through Judea. Philip and some others brought the gospel to the Samaritans and they won the Samaritans to Christ. Then Philip was led by the Spirit to go talk to an Ethiopian eunuch and led him to faith in Christ. He goes down the Nile river, the upper Nile and lives out his Christian life there in Ethiopia. Merchants and tradesmen and travelers and caravans and soldiers posted to different places in the distant places in the Roman empire, going along ancient trade routes, coastal traders poking along the inlets and cliffs and coastlines of the Mediterranean Sea and the east coast of Africa. Apostles took the gospel as far as India and probably as far west as Spain. The tiny mustard seed of one hundred twenty believers began to turn the world upside down for Christ, and this amazing pattern has continued to our day. You got Moravians that have the idea of winning slaves on plantations. In the early 18th century, they began the Protestant missions movement. William Carey, a Baptist, took the gospel to India. Just one man, Adoniram Judson, and his wife, Nancy brought the gospel to Burma, and led tens of thousands of Burmese Christians. Just one person getting off a boat, starting small. Hudson Taylor, going to the inland regions of China. By the end of his life, the China inland mission was responsible for 50,000 -75,000 Chinese believers. Just the vision of one individual. David Livingston in the heart of the dark continent, an explorer and missionary. Christianity claims hundreds of millions of converts from every nation on earth. The church of Jesus Christ is bigger than you think it is. And it's not just famous missionaries, unnamed evangelists have walked courageously across the street or across the office space. You're like, “Man, that takes courage. You don't know my boss.” No, I don't know your boss, but I had one of those bosses, and you feel led by the Lord to go share your faith with your boss. It takes courage, but the Lord can bless it.
“From Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, the death of one man, Jesus Christ, changed all of human history.”
So what lessons, first and foremost, come to Christ. If you don't know Christ, if you haven't trusted in him, just let me tell you simply, your sins can be forgiven right now. All you have to do is call on the name of the Lord. Jesus. You've heard the basic facts of the gospel. Jesus died. He rose again. If you repent and believe, your sins are forgiven. So come to Christ, let the gospel start in your life and then spread and take over.
What about you Christians? Don't despise the day of small things here in Durham. As we look at our city of Durham, it's easy to get discouraged. I mean, we're greatly outnumbered. Have you noticed? We are greatly outnumbered here, but it's an opportunity. People are pouring in. God's bringing them here. They're living, they're putting up apartments and houses and condos and they're pouring in. Don't you want our church to be part of God's solution to that? Don't you want us to be among the answers that He knows we are going to not just have people come here and they'll hear the gospel, but that we pour out like they did in Pentecost, out into the streets and they'll hear it from us. Let's not despise the day of small things. Finally, look forward to the consummation of the kingdom, feed your heart. Read Revelation 21 and 22, read it regularly. Feed your heart with how big this whole thing's going to get.
Close with me in prayer. Lord, thank you for the power of the word of God. We thank you for the Gospel of Mark for what it teaches us about Jesus as the son of God and the kingdom of the son of God. And I pray that we would learn this parable of the mustard seed, that though the seed was so tiny, you could barely see it, it had an amazing impact in the end. I pray that we would trust you for big things, that we would pray that you would work big things in our midst. Give us courage to be hospitable, courage to share the gospel at work, at home, in different places. And we pray in Jesus' name, amen.