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The Bible Promises These Two Kinds of Progress

September 27, 2019

We previously talked about the different reactions to the sowing of God’s Word, and how the enemy plants weeds into the fruitful harvest. Now put yourself in the shoes of the first disciples as they listen to the teaching of Jesus in these parables: 

“So Jesus, we are to be sowers of the Word with you, and you’re telling us that when we sow this seed, the devil will be at work snatching it away. Trouble and persecution will come to people who receive it gladly. And on top of it all, when the seed falls in good soil, the enemy will sow weeds, and we won’t be able to pull them up. 

“You want us to commit our lives to this? What chance do we have? How in the world are we going to sustain a lifetime of service with all of that against us?”  

To answer that question, Jesus gives us two parables that promise us sustained progress. This progress comes in two ways: 

Visible Growth (The Progress of the Gospel in the World)   

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.” (Matthew 13:31) 

Here is what the rule of Christ looks like in the world. It is like a tiny seed. Jesus says it is the smallest of seeds. It is the smallest of all the seeds that were used in Palestinian gardens. [1] “When it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree” (Matthew 13:32). Christ’s kingdom has a small beginning but it will lead to a great and glorious outcome. 

Think about the small beginning of the gospel in the world. Our Savior was poor in this world, and he was put to death beside two criminals on a cross. After that, about 120 fearful followers remained, and they met for prayer in an upper room.  

His first preachers were a few fishermen and publicans who for the most part were unskilled and uneducated men. The first truth that they preached was the cross, which was bound to raise antagonism, since it was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles.  

The first movements of the faith brought persecution, first on the leaders, and then for the followers. [2]  

The Christian faith began as a tiny grain of mustard seed. But the seed had life in it, and from these small beginnings, the gospel spread. As the gospel has been preached, the risen Christ has been laying claim to more and more people’s lives.  

Never be discouraged that a work is small if Jesus Christ is at its center! The kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed. It may be small now, but it is part of something glorious that will last forever.  

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16) 

You shouldn’t be ashamed of it either. 

Pervasive Influence (The Progress of the Gospel in a Believer)  

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” (Matthew 13:33) 

If you’ve made your own bread, you know all about this: Leaven, like yeast, produces fermentation in the dough, causing it to rise when it is baked. Every time bread was made, a piece of leavened dough was put into storage. When the next batch of dough was made, the leavened dough was mixed into it, causing the new dough to rise before it was baked.  

Jesus is saying that a small amount of the leaven mixed into a batch of dough will permeate the whole lump and change its entire nature. Bake it without leaven and it is hard, crispy, and flat. Bake it with leaven and it rises light and fluffy, and delicious to eat.  

Think about this in relation to your experience as a Christian. When God’s grace comes into your heart, it’s like a leaven being mixed into the dough of your life. 

Think about how that began. You began to feel an awakening to spiritual things. Maybe there was dissatisfaction in your own life, or with the shallowness of other people around you. You saw something in Christ that drew you. 

God began a work of grace in your heart, and gradually what he began in you permeates the whole of your life. God’s grace begins to influence your conscience, your affections, your mind. It’s changing your nature from the inside out.

The rule of Christ in the life of a believer may have a small beginning, but it will end in a complete transformation: “He who began a good work in your will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). 

When he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2) 

Never Lose Hope

When you become a Christian, you begin to see how far you are from what God is calling you to be. There is a new longing for holiness in your life.  Sometimes all you can see is how far short of it you are.  

Satan keeps saying to you, “Look at what you were.” But Jesus says to you, “Look at what you will be!” 

You are not yet conformed to the image of Christ. But the leaven of Christ is present in your life. His grace will permeate every part of your life. The entire dough of your life will be leavened. The nature of every part of you – soul and body – will be changed. And the day is coming when you will be like Christ. 

This article was adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon, “Progress,” from his series Ministry Matters.  

Photo Credit: Unsplash 


[1] John Macarthur, Commentary on Matthew 8-15, p. 369, Moody, 1987. 

[2] Adapted from J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, p. 20ff, Crossway, 1993.  

The Author
Colin Smith

Colin Smith is the Senior Pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. He has authored a number of books, including Heaven, How I Got Here and Heaven, So Near - So Far. Colin is the President and Teacher for Unlocking the Bible. Follow him on Twitter.

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