Last year I got the chance to travel to Washington DC. I was in awe as I walked around and read the original declaration of independence and the constitution. Our foundation as a country was built on revolutionaries. We left a monarchy, established our own governance, established a constitution – an agreed way of living – as laws and regulations followed. The history of our nation is a really interesting and fascinating one. As I reflected on the rich history of our nation, I was reminded that our true allegiance goes beyond nation and history, we belong to a Kingdom that is rooted in the way of Jesus.
The way of Jesus – the kingdom of heaven – has a very different strategy than that of our own country or any country, monarchies, democracies, or dictatorships. The way of Jesus is uniquely different than any other way, but it is still a kingdom, an entity all its own.
Jesus describes a kingdom that is unlike any other and yet it influences all other kingdoms without taking complete control over them. This is why the gospel can have so much impact in any culture or context, because it isn’t attached to a certain nation, or a certain way. It can thrive in communist china (which it is) or impact the democratic UK or the republic of America. The way of Jesus can thrive in any nation, even if it isn’t, what we call, a “Christian” nation.
The goal of Jesus wasn’t to change communism to democracy or even to Christianity – certain types of government are not the antithesis to Christianity. To assume a democracy is the best environment for the way of Jesus to thrive is arrogance. The way of Jesus was built to influence anyone, anywhere – even in muslim nations.
Jesus used the term “the kingdom of heaven” and it is synonymous with what we are calling “the way of Jesus”. It is an ethos – a way of seeing and living.
Jesus used one of the smallest seeds, a mustard seed, to illustrate His way. In the parable He tells, this seed is intentionally planted in a garden which is exactly the place you do not sow this type of plant. Why? It’s an invasive species. It literally takes over. Most planted this seed in unharvested fields. This plant was typically only 4 feet, but it would grow to about 10-15 feet in some cases. Birds come and perch in its branches and use it to make their nests.
Jesus also uses leaven or yeast to describe His way. Leaven is often used to describe sin in the Bible, but Jesus is not using it in this way here. He is probably remembering helping his mom make bread for her village and just a small amount kneaded into the dough would influence all of the dough. Seed and leaven are really without purpose on their own, but are activated when they are planted or implanted. This is where their purpose is released.
Jesus wants to remind us that the kingdom of heaven starts small;
The kingdom of heaven is slow (generational), maybe even imperceptible at first;
The kingdom of heaven will grow, but never as large as you think;
The kingdom of heaven will permeate every aspect of society, any society.
When Jesus describes His way, His kingdom, He wants to show that His kingdom isn’t constrained by politics or power, time or place. His kingdom is expansive. It’s not about taking power over human systems – but about influencing every system from the inside out. It’s not a roll in with your tanks, big guns, and airplanes. The kingdom starts small, grows slow, and never ends up as large as you think it should be, but it influences everything.
The kingdom of heaven starts with us – in our hearts and permeates out of us wherever we find ourselves. We must never forget the purpose of the seed – the way of Jesus – His purpose to create, restore and redeem. These three words are a distillation of the story of God throughout history and your history. On every page of the Bible and in every story you can see God is up to one of these three things.
No matter where you look in history or present day, God is there creating fresh, new things in our world and in our lives. We have a tendency to mess things up, and yet God is at work to restore us and heal us. Ultimately Jesus came to redeem us – or buy us back to Himself and for Himself. God wants to plant His way, His word into our hearts and allow it to grow through us in every part of society – politics, education, the arts, science, religion, business, social agencies, and on and on and on.
If you feel small and insignificant asking, “What difference might I make?” I want to remind you that you are right where you should be in the kingdom parables. Don’t despise small beginnings. My prayer for you is that you would allow the seed of the way of Jesus to be planted into your hearts and allow it grow and influence every aspect of this life. Seed planted in the soil of our hearts produces life. Seed planted in the soil of society will produce life every time.