Another parable put he forth to them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took…
The spirit of prophecy in ancient times enshrined itself in parables. The prophecy of Balaam, accordingly, is called "his parable" (Numbers 23:18). Under the parable of two eagles and a vine Ezekiel shows forth the judgments of God upon Jerusalem for revolting from Babylon to Egypt (Ezekiel 18.; see also Ezekiel 24:3; Micah 2:4-6; Habakkuk 2:6). So are the parables of Christ prophetic. Observe -
I. THAT JESUS TAUGHT IN PARABLES IN PURSUANCE OF PROPHECY.
1. The end of that teaching was predicted.
(1) The end was to hide the saving truth from those who proved themselves unworthy of it. Our Lord did not assume the parable until his plainer teaching, with its miraculous demonstrations, had been wickedly rejected.
(2) This judgment upon the proud, obstinate, and sensual people was foretold (cf. Isaiah 6:9-12; see homily on vers. 10-17).
(3) The parable, at once, so wisely enshrined the saving truth as richly to reward the diligence of the prayerful. To these the parables of Christ are the utterance of "things hidden from the foundation of the world" (cf. Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:26).
2. So was the means to the end.
(1) Asaph, to whom the authorship of the psalm cited by Matthew in the text is ascribed, was a "seer," or prophet (see 2 Chronicles 29:30). Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he predicted that Messiah should speak to the people in parables. For the psalm itself contains no parable.
(2) In uttering these "dark sayings," Messiah was to "establish a testimony in Jacob," and to appoint "a law in Israel" (Psalm 78:5). These are distinct from the testimony and Law from Sinai, which were given long before the days of Asaph or David. What, then, can they be but the law destined to emanate from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem? (cf. Isaiah 2:3).
(3) The psalmist, moreover, speaks of these as to be "given to the generation to come;" literally, "the latter generation," or the generation of the latter days.
(4) In this mysterious teaching, therefore, Jesus exhibited another mark of his Messiahship. The unbelieving Jews seek in vain for any mark of Messiahship which is not verified in him.
II. THAT THE PARABLES BEFORE US MAY BE VIEWED AS PROPHECIES.
1. They describe the gospel in its feeble beginning.
(1) How apparently insignificant is the grain of mustard seed! So apparently insignificant was Jesus in his feeble infancy; in the meanness of his circumstances; in the social grade of his few followers. Fishermen of Galilee! "Hath any of the rulers believed on him, or of the Pharisees?"
(2) How apparently insignificant is the lump of leaven as compared with the lump of meal! How are these words of Jesus uttered in the air of Galilee so to multiply as to reverberate in every human ear the world over? How is this company of fishermen to preach the gospel to every creature?
2. They describe the gospel in its secret power.
(1) The grain of mustard seed is small; but it is a seed. It has in it an unlimited power of growth and multiplication. So Jesus has in himself illimitable resources. See his power flashing from him in miracles. Physical. Moral.
(2) The "little leaven," also, possesses wonderful potency. The word of Christ differs from every other word in that it carries in it the energy of omnipotence. During the first year of the ministry of Jesus we read of "seventy disciples." Note: They were not seventy units, but seventy preachers. In three years "the number of the names was one hundred and twenty." After the outpouring of the Spirit the disciples multiplied by thousands (Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4).
(3) The gospel has not only won its converts by millions, but it has demolished the idolatrous systems of the classic nations. It is now undermining the colossal systems of the East. It is in the van of all true science and civilization.
3. They describe the gospel in its ultimate triumph.
(1) These parables do not predict that the visible Church by the gospel is to convert the whole world before Christ comes again. For this would oppose his own teaching, as when he advises us that at his coming the moral state of the world will sadly resemble that of the antediluvians in the days of Noah (see Luke 17:24-30). Paul also declares that "in the last days perilous times shall come;" that "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:1, 13).
(2) The interval of the seed lying in the soil is that portion of the parable of the mustard seed to which may be compared the period through which we are passing, extending from the first to the second advent of Christ. So with the leaven. Leaven works secretly in the meal for a long time before its power is visible in a universal commotion. As yet the kingdom of God is without observation. It comes secretly in the heart without ostentation or display.
(3) The parables carry us beyond the time of the coming of Christ. They carry us forward to the millennium, in which season the grain of mustard seed will have become a great tree, in which the birds of the air - all nations and peoples - will find rest and shelter (cf. Psalm 80:9, 11; Isaiah 60:1, 2; Amos 9:15). Then will the work of the leaven be visible in the whole lump. "We cannot consider these words, the whole, less than a prophecy that the leaven shall yet pervade all nations and purify all life" (Trench). Note: The gospel, like leaven, works silently and insensibly in the heart (see Psalm 119:11). The Word, like fermenting leaven, is quick and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). It works "until the whole is leavened," or brought into similitude to itself. Leaven does not work in corn unground. So neither does the gospel work on the unbroken heart. The similes in these parables are encouraging to those who work for Christ and souls. The same gospel which now converts the individual believer will convert the race in the coming age. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: