THE GOSPELS 75
Matthew tells us that Jesus only spoke to the multitudes in parables, and he adds that He did this to fulfill prophecy. One of the most astounding things about the life of Jesus was that it fitted perfectly into what the prophets, for over a thousand years, had predicted the coming Messiah would be like. How anyone, with a knowledge of the Prophets, could have doubted who He was is unbelievable. It just graphically describes the way the mind of man works. What one wants to believe, and what one has already decided is the right way, nearly always determines whether one can be converted to the truth or not. The Jew, deeply ensconced in his traditions and what the rabbis had taught him to expect, was able to ignore the miracles and the fulfillment of prophecy in favor of their family religious teaching. The Jews are not the only ones guilty of this. It is a very common thing to see in today’s world. What one has been taught, and what his family religion is, are too important for him to consider any other truth. People in every religious group are guilty of this closed mind approach. There are very few Bereans, who “…search the scriptures daily, to see if these things are true”.
Of the many parables which Jesus used, I want us to look at just four which paint for us a very graphic picture of the wonders of the Kingdom of Heaven. First, the parable of the mustard seed: The mustard seed was not really the smallest of all seeds, but it was used in common expressions of that day for the least things they could imagine, and Jesus uses it in this way because His listeners would be familiar with that phrase and could easily understand what He was talking about. His parables were designed to make the truth clear to the hearer, so that the responsibility for misunderstanding would always rest with their desire to know, not on the obscurity of the lesson.
This tiny seed was capable of producing a large tree in which birds could light and feast off of the small black seeds which it produced on its branches. One writer said the mustard tree of that country was often 12 feet tall, or as tall as a horse and its rider. There are two ways in which this parable illustrates the Kingdom of Heaven. In the first place (and this would be an encouragement to the disciples of Jesus, who were a small band going out to convert the world), it predicts that, even with such a small beginning, the Kingdom would become large and strong in the future. One only has to look at how Christianity has affected the world, to see the fulfillment of this prediction. It has become the moral standard by which the rules of human conduct and society’s regard for human life and personal dignity take their origin.
There is another way in which this parable is applicable. The moment one really accepts the King of Kings into his life, it is destined to completely change
his entire history, and his eternal destiny. One seemingly small decision has the power to override all other factors in determining the direction of a single life.
In the next parable, Jesus again uses a very familiar household illustration. He says the Kingdom is like a woman who puts leaven in three measures of meal and it was all leavened. Bread was baked at home in Palestine. Jesus had probably seen His mother do it. Leaven was a small piece of dough left over from a previous baking and allowed to ferment. Even though they used it that way, leaven, in Jewish thought, was always connected with something evil and rotten. However, bread without leaven was flat and tasteless. So the leaven did two things. It permeated the whole, and it made it so much better by making it soft, fluffy and sweet.
The power of that small bit of leaven to affect three measures of meal (enough to make bread for a large family) was impressive to say the least. However, when one studies the history of the world, and realizes how drastically Christianity (i.e., the spreading of the Kingdom of God on earth) has changed mankind, it is miraculous. The status of women, who before were considered only things to be used with no importance and no rights, was changed so that
now they have dignity and rights, the same as men. Children were considered a useless bother and, in Spartan society, any child born unhealthy
or deformed was cast out on the mountain side to die. That was because there was no home life nor family life before the coming of Christianity. The old and infirm were just a bother, and the sooner disposed of the better. Whatever of human rights has been improved and the dignity of life elevated, it has been done by the coming of Christianity. The society of the world was leavened by the advent of the King of Kings into the world.
In our next essay we will consider the parables of the Treasure hidden in a field, and the Pearl of great price.