Matthew 13:31-33 – That One Cross In An Insignificant Town: Your View of It Is the Most Significant Thing Ever

Posted: December 23, 2015 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 13:31-33
The Parables of the Mustard Seed & the Yeast

Have you ever noticed that the biggest of family feuds started over something small? Someone said something, maybe unintentionally, that offended another family member. It may begin with something someone did or didn’t do that offended someone. It then begins with the offended person not showing up for the next family gathering. Then, the game is on. The feud then takes on a life of its own as remarks and actions get added to the fire. What was once just a smoldering ember then becomes a full-fledged forest fire with fuel constantly being added to the fire. After years, though, will all the fuel that had been added, people not talking to one another, people talking through others, the feud takes on a life of its own. After years, no one really remembers the details of what started it to begin with. If feuds go on long enough, they affect generations and whole branches of families being pitted against one another. That’s a negative example of something small and insignificant growing into something far greater than what it was originally.

We can all relate to this negative example. I know that my family can. My Uncle Doug left our family when I was about 4 years old over some very rude comments that my grandparents, Doug’s parents, had made to him on one of his visits back to see Pop and Granny back in 1966. Uncle Doug never came home again after that, even when his parents, my grandparents passed away in 1979 (Pop) and 2009 (Granny). Even after my last living grandparent passed away in 2009, he stayed away even then from his own remaining family, his four brothers and their respective families. He persisted in disassociating himself from his Bowling family roots from 1966 until his death earlier this year in August 2015. From 1966 til now, he persisted in saying that my grandparents were not his parents even in his obituary. His children and his children’s children I do not even know. Rude comments for sure were made by my grandparents from what I understand from my dad and my uncles. I was too little to remember what was said. But that’s family, we seem to hurt the ones we love the most, but it is family that we are and should give the easiest forgiveness. However, in this case it never happened. Something small became something big. A small ember became a raging fire. What was the sad thing was that if Doug had just rejoined the family, we would have accepted him with open arms despite the decades of his raging against the family. Again, this is a negative example but it shows us how something insignificant can become something far greater than what was originally expected. That’s how I relate to the mustard seed and yeast short parables. I look at my own extended family.

The smallest of things can become something great in positive ways as well. Just look at what Jesus says about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said in Matthew 13:31-33,
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
What can we learn from this passage? There are two things. One is overarching and the other is individual. I think that we learn that what happened on Calvary was an insignificant event by worldly standards but became the most significant event in the history of mankind. It is significant in world history and It is cosmic in its implications. The second thing is that salvation may seem insignificant to others but has eternal implications for the receiver of God’s grace. The tiny mustard seed and the scraggly plant that it produces becomes a host to all kinds of life. The impact of the kingdom of God is the same way.

First, let us begin with the human historical nature of how Calvary is like the mustard seed. What seemed like the killing of a radical prophet that was a thorn in the side of the status quo, the establishment of his day seemed insignificant to the Jewish Sanhedrin (the ruling council of religious leaders) and certainly to the Roman Empire. Jesus seems like this irritant to the social order that they finally had gotten rid of after him getting people all riled up for the past three years. It was by worldly standards at the time, an insignificant crucifixion in an insignificant outpost of the Roman Empire. Palestine was a conquered part of the empire but it certainly was not the most significant part. It’s significance lie only in its crossroads nature. It connected the European part of the Empire by land to its North African and Arabian sectors. It was a passthrough. Soldiers and diplomats assigned to the region from Rome saw Palestine as a stepping stone in an upward climb or punishment as part of the decline of a career. It was not seen as the ultimate assignment. So, while assigned there, you simply wanted to survive it and get back home. Keep the peace. Make sure the economy was working right and get the heck out at the end of your assignment. So, this Jesus thing was just a bump in the road of Jewish history and Roman history at the time as it would seem to the Jewish and Roman leaders at the time. But something happened that day at Calvary and three days later (by Jewish time reckoning). We will talk about the resurrection next, but let’s continue down this history road first. This little insignificant event became like yeast introduced into dough. Instead of killing an innocent man and getting rid of a problem. The Romans and the Jews, from a historical perspective, inadvertently started a movement. From this little tiny insignificant event on an insignificant day in an insignificant part of the Roman Empire, the world was changed. The empire was changed. From this armpit of the empire and this insignificant, just one of many, crucifixions came this amazing movement known as Christianity. The faith could not just be contained in Jerusalem. Those who were disciples of Jesus Christ changed the world. The faith spread from Jerusalem to the entire empire in very short order. It was a raging flame that burned throughout the empire to the point that it become the official religion of the Roman Empire by the beginning of the fourth century after Jesus’ death on that insignificant cross, on that insignificant hill, in that insignificant regional center of political power (Jerusalem) in the empire, in that insignificant region. What happened that day in that tiny armpit of the empire became the symbol of what is now the faith of 1/3 of our planet. What has grown from that mustard seed! What has grown from that little bit of yeast on that day over nearly 2,000 years of human history ago.

Second, let us look at the cosmic nature of what happened that day. Sure it is easy to see the human historical implications of the kingdom of Christ followers that began with that insignificant crucifixion on that day. But let us consider, here at Christmas time, what the cosmic nature of both the nativity and the cross mean. Let us think about it. By human standards and in the history of the world, Jesus was just a kid born in a cultural backwater town of a once great but now conquered nation. It was an insignificant kid born in an insignificant town in an insignificant region of the mighty Roman Empire. Even within the conquered nation of Israel, it was a blip on the radar of Jewish society. He was just a kid born to this poor young couple where there was a question as to the timing of the pregnancy. A poor kid born to a poor young carpenter/handyman and his young wife. But it was so much more to those of who know who Jesus really is. It was God breaking into human history to be Immanuel, God with us. Mighty God who is mightier than the Roman Empire, mightier than anything we as humans can do or create, subdued his glory to become a baby. He entered human history. He came as baby. Imagine the Lord of the Universe subduing His mighty glory and limiting Himself to a human baby’s body. He grew up in human flesh. He lived the human life. He experienced everything we experience. He humbled his glory to be among us. He came to do what only He could do. He came to complete the Old Testament sacrificial system. God had been training His people for this with the OT sacrificial system. Through this training we were learning that we were unfit and unworthy because of our sin nature to exist with a Holy God in eternity. The sacrifices were to teach us of our need for forgiveness. The sacrifices of animals were to show us that there was need for substitutionary sacrifices for our sins. It was to point out how repeatedly we fall short of God’s glory and there needed to be a way to make us right with God when we approach Him with humble hearts seeking forgiveness. But it was an imperfect system that needed to be repeated because the sacrifices were from our own imperfect world. There needed to be a perfect way to complete the training, to complete the OT sacrificial system. Jesus was God in the flesh. He came to earth and broke into human history and lived the perfect life. There was no sin in Him though He was tempted. There was no sin in Him because He was perfect because He was God Immanuel. He came and lived the perfect life. He did not sin. He was thus the perfect once and final sacrifice for our sins. The Romans and Jews thought they were simply getting rid of a political nuisance but they were acting out God’s plan. Jesus on the cross was more than just the death of a political rebel. It was the plan. It was the culmination of God’s redemptive plan. It was necessary. Jesus says on the cross to His Father that “it is finished”. This is more than just a man saying that His life is over. It is Jesus of the trinity of God saying to His co-equal Father that the plan was complete. The OT sacrificial system was complete. Now, we have the once and final sacrifice that is the permanent substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. No longer is there a need for annual sacrifices that have to be repeated. The perfect sinless life, the only perfect sinless life in human or animal form to have ever existed. There was no more need of sacrifices. The cross finished it. All we have to do now is believe that the cross was God’s redemptive plan for us. We simply have to believe that Jesus was God in the flesh and that the cross where He died for us pays the price for our sin nature. He took the punishment that we deserve in eternity. He is our Savior. He is our Redeemer. The cross did it for us. That’s what God said it was for.

It was more than just a guy dying as a rebel on the mechanism of Roman execution. The man on the cross is more than just a rebel, more than just a great philosopher, more than a radical rabbi, more than just a do-gooder, more than just a self-help guru. It was the redemptive plan of a mighty God. It was the perfect sacrifice of God Himself on the cross because He loved us so much. He loved us so much that He broke into human history and was born a child, grew up as we grow up, experienced all that we experience, but did not sin where we do sin. He came to do all that so He could be on that cross that day on that insignificant hill in a conquered town in a conquered land that was considered a cultural backwater to the Roman Empire. It was oh so much more than that. It was cosmic. It was grand plan. It was God on earth to save His children. It was the vehicle, the one and only vehicle for reconciliation to God because it was God on that cross. There can be no other way that this cross on that insignificant hill in that insignificant town. Everything else that we may try to put in its place is just man-made religion. It is only this cosmic event, the center point, this intersection of God and His creation that matters. This seemingly insignificant event to the rest of the world is what the world will be judged by in the end – the cross from this insignificant hill in this insignificant town in this insignificant region in a conquered land. No other event is so pivotal. Seemingly insignificant but of the utmost eternal importance. Every soul will be judged on the basis of the significance that we place on this seemingly insignificant point in human history. Do you see it as the God of the universe sacrificing Himself for you or is this just an insignificant event in an insignificant town?

When we see the cross as God in the flesh dying for our sins, when we see Jesus as more than a rebel crucified, when we see that He died for the punishment we deserve as sinners the cross is the most significant event in human history. God saved us from an eternity in hell. When we see our Savior crucified, it is love unparalled. When we think of God loving us that much, it is overwhelming. It changes us. We know we deserve hell because we never, ever can be good enough. One sin taints us from ever spending eternity with God in heaven. The alternative we know is the eternal suffering in the flames and emptiness and pain and eternal suffering of hell. Jesus saved us from that. It changes us. We live lives of thanksgiving for what He has done for us. We live differently. We want to please our Father in Heaven for what He did for us through Jesus on the cross on that day way back then. It is joy to please Him. It is joy to tell others about Him. It is the single most significant thing that happens to us. That seemingly insignificant moment in human history when we accept Christ as our Savior. It changes the world. It creates ripples in eternity. I well up with emotion as I write this. We are saved. Human history is insignicant in comparison to where we spend eternity. Where will you spend it? There is more than this life that we make so important but in reality it is insignificant. What seems insignificant to us, eternity, is real and it is forever. Where are you going to spend it. You will be judged on how you see this cross in that insignificant town in that insignificant place. Is Jesus a self-help guru to you? Is He a great philosopher? Is He a radical rabbi? Or is He the Son of God who died on the cross for your sins and took the punishment you deserve because of your sin nature? Is this an insignificant question or a question of eternity for you? What is your answer?
Amen and Amen.

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