How Can the Kingdom of God Be Present Now and Still to Come?Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.”
The kingdom of God is the center of Jesus’ message. It is also something that can be hard to understand. Sometimes Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God as something that is present. Yet, sometimes Jesus talks about the future coming of the kingdom. This can be perplexing. Christians wonder how to make sense of the enigmatic teaching of Jesus. Skeptics say Jesus was confused or that the Gospels' records are imprecise.
In fact, however, Jesus did proclaim the kingdom or reign of God as something both present and future. In Luke 13, he used two parables to illustrate what the kingdom is like. I’ll examine one of these today and the other tomorrow.
In Luke 13:19, Jesus said that the kingdom of God “is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.” I’ve seen a mustard seed, and it is indeed quite tiny...perhaps the size of the letter ‘o’ in this font. Yet, from such a small seed would grow a substantial plant. The largest mustard plant I’ve seen is probably six feet tall. In Galilee, a mustard plant can reach ten feet or more. (If Jesus had lived in California, I expect he might have used the example of a redwood tree, which begins as a tiny seed and can grow to more than 200 feet high!)
Now, if you were to plant a mustard seed, that seed would certainly be very real. In a way, the plant would be present, but not quite yet. As the seed began to grow, the mustard plant would appear, but still as something very insignificant. The kingdom of God is like the mustard seed, in that during the ministry of Jesus, it was present, but easy to overlook. In time, the kingdom would become much more impressive. Thus, in the ministry of Jesus, the kingdom was very real, yet not fully grown. It was, as it were, “already and not yet.”
For us, the fact that the kingdom of God begins as a mustard seed sets us free from believing that we don’t matter to God unless we can do something big. In fact, by allowing God to reign over every part of our lives, we are, in a sense, planting kingdom seeds. So if, for example, you begin to let God rule over your life when you’re at work, you may not change your corporation, but God’s kingdom is still present, vital, and growing. Thus, the parable of the mustard seed gives us encouragement to live for God wherever we are, no matter how insignificant we may feel. In God’s kingdom, mustard seeds count for a lot!
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you ever feel like what you can do for God really doesn’t matter? How might the parable of the mustard seed encourage you in your daily discipleship? Are there some “mustard seeds” that God wants to plant through you today?
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for this parable of the mustard seed. Not only does it help me to understand the peculiar nature of the kingdom, but it also encourages me to live for you every moment. I realize that I don’t have to produce mature mustard plants. I simply need to plant the seeds that you give me, trusting that your kingdom will grow in your time and in your ways.
All praise be to you, Lord, for allowing me to be a planter of mustard seeds! Amen.
P.S. from Mark
If you’d like a broader and deeper discussion of the kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus, let me point you to a series on my blog: What Was the Message of Jesus?