Then Jesus asked, “What is the Kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” Again He asked, “What shall I compare the Kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Luke 13:18-21)
Mantis shrimp are actually distant relatives of shrimp. They generally grow between two and seven inches long, but don’t let their size fool you. These crustaceans have the ability to punch anything that gets in their way at speeds up to fifty miles per hour ‒ fast enough to momentarily boil water. Aquariums that keep mantis shrimps have to install shatterproof glass so they don’t crack the tanks.
According to the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, the Kingdom of heaven packs a similar surprise. Jesus asks a rhetorical question: “What is the Kingdom of God like?” (vv. 18, 20) to set His audience up for this one-two punch. Since Nebuchadnezzar, the Hebrew people had been passed from nation to oppressive nation, suffering under despots from Epiphanes to Herod. They clung to the concept of the coming Kingdom of God and often interpreted it to be political. When Jesus asked this question, most of His audience would have imagined taking back Israel’s throne by force from their captors.
Jesus’ response is confusing, if not shocking ‒ the Kingdom of heaven is as miniscule as a mustard seed, as tiny as yeast (vv. 19, 21). Don’t be deceived, though; from such unassuming beginnings come huge impact. The second parable takes the first to a new level. While the mustard seed grows in size, yeast actually transforms its surroundings. Even a small amount can affect sixty pounds of dough (roughly 100 loaves).
Jesus was kicked out of His hometown Nazareth, itself a town with a poor reputation. His disciples were uneducated. He had “nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2). After only three years of ministry, He was tried, beaten, and crucified, and His disciples scattered. Even so, these flimsy beginnings would lead to something spectacular.
Paul states in Philippians 1:6 that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Sometimes God’s work in and around us seems insignificant, but even when we can’t see it we can trust that God is at work. Pray for eyes to see and fuller faith in His promises.