Luke 13:18​-21

Don McKenzie fills in for Pastor Trevor Davis as we continue the verse-by-verse study in the Gospel of Luke. This message deals with 13:18-21 in a section entitled, The Power and Threat of the Kingdom of God. Jesus shares two parables on the mustard seed and leaven.


Good morning and welcome to Great Commission Church.

My name is Don McKenzie and I’m on your staff here as the financial administrator.

I am filling in for our pastor, Trevor Davis, because He is with 11 other men of our church in Pittsburgh, PA where they have been doing manual labor this past week to help Redeeming Grace Church of Pittsburgh – a church in our missionary network – repair and prepare to move into their first building ever.

We will get a video update on that later after the message.

Today, we are continuing our verse-by-verse study in the gospel of Luke, which is in the New Testament.

Last week we saw Jesus pour out deep, heart-felt mercy on a poor, pathetic woman who had suffered from an 18-year back crippling affliction.

He said in Luke 13:16

16 "So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?"

In order for Jesus to heal this woman, He had to wrench the powerful fingers of Satan Himself off of her.

See, it says Satan had her bound.

Someone stronger than Satan was needed to set this woman free from her awful physical suffering.

When Jesus perceived this was a woman of faith, He simply proclaimed her physical liberty – He just announced it – He didn’t even ask her permission.

12 But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, "Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity."

There were more ears listening than just human ones.

Evil spirits, demons and Satan himself heard Jesus say, “You’ve ruled over this infirmity for 18 years but today, I am overcoming you and setting her free.”

13 And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

Jesus basically kicked in this door, marched into Satan’s house – flexed His heavenly muscles – overcame Satan – and physically set this poor woman free from 18 years of torture and misery.

People were catching on fast that Jesus was extraordinary – someone who was stronger than the devil himself, able to create food, able to eliminate physical pain and suffering.

And every time Jesus taught and did miracles, fever of the kingdom of God went up a degree.

In John chapter 6 this kingdom fever spikes.

It was after Jesus fed 5,000 men – if you add the women and children it could easily have been 20,000 people – and he fed them all from 5 loaves and 2 small fish.

And then it happened – look at John 6:15

John 6:15

15 Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.

Jesus is the king, but He would not be forcefully enthroned by a mob because that was the work of His heavenly Father.

So, Jesus spent most of His time teaching about the kingdom of God and how it was different than what they were thinking and expecting.

The people had false expectations and continued to have false expectations.

False expectations usually create deep disappointment – even painful disillusionment.

So, in our passage today, after doing a great miracle and revealing once again His great power – Jesus takes a moment to counteract all the false expectations that were running rampant about Him and the kingdom of God.

And He starts like this:

Luke 13

18 Then He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?

First, notice Jesus’ use of questions.

He is the master of questions.

In this verse, how many questions does Jesus ask?

What is the first one?

Do you think Jesus knew the answer to this question or was He hoping to learn the answer from someone else?

Do you know how many questions in a row I have just asked you?

The answer’s 4.

Jesus used questions as a tool to control and direct the topic and conversation.

A well phrased question can cause a person to start thinking about what you want them to think about.

Luke 13

18 Then He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?

So, Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like?”

As Jesus taught, it became apparent He was sharing a lot of new information about the kingdom that no one else had ever written or said.

In fact, it turns out, that was God’s plan all along.

In the Old Testament, He purposely withheld key information about the kingdom.

He kept them secret until and only until the King himself arrived and started explaining it.

So, Jesus spent 3 ½ years teaching and revealing what He called the mysteries of the kingdom of God.

We saw this back in Luke 8:10 when Jesus said:

Luke 8:10

10 …"To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God….”

In the Bible, a mystery was a truth that had been kept secret by God but was now being revealed and made known.

See, the Old Testament hinted at these secrets, it gave veiled illustrations but only the Lord Jesus pulled back the curtain so they could see what the real, true, promised kingdom of God would be like.

They had no idea the true kingdom of God required its king to be humiliated and crucified as a means of paying for their guilt so their sins could be forgiven.

They had no clue their crucified king would rise from the dead in a new glorified body - and then ascend back into heaven and rule as their King, first from heaven.

Even when Jesus told His 12 disciples about these things – they simply did not believe it.

So, here in our text, Jesus is once again challenging their thinking by asking this question: “What will the kingdom of God be like?”

Luke 13:19

19 "It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches."

Seriously? Like a mustard seed?

Why that’s the smallest garden seed – it’s so small.

Jesus, did you mean to say your kingdom is like the noon-day sun shining in all its brilliance without a cloud in the sky?

Did you mean to say it is like the greatest parade ever conceived, with millions upon millions of followers singing and praising God and exalting the glorious King?

No, it is like a tiny, insignificant garden seed that will be buried in the ground and will be completely out of sight for a while – and you hope it grows.

And if it does, it will finally break through the soil as a fragile, small plant and over time, it may grow and finally become large enough to bear fruit and even allow birds to build nests and find safety and peace.

Jesus said that is what the kingdom of God will be like.

Before I make any observations, let’s go ahead and look at the other illustration Jesus gave.

20 And again He said, "To what shall I liken the kingdom of God?

21 "It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."

The first illustration was about gardening and now this illustration is about cooking.

It’s obvious that in the providence of God, He took Trevor Davis to Pittsburgh so the leading expert here at GCC on gardening and cooking could explain these parables to you.

I’m a rebellious gardener – don’t want to do it and I’ve never done it.

And I’m awful cook – awful.

I remember about 8 years ago trying to learn how to make an omelet.

I had my laptop set up on the stove stop area, with a YouTube video playing, and I was following the instructions.

When it ended, I had to carry the pan outside and throw the contents into a pond in front of our house because it was awful.

I know – I tried again the next night and unbelievable – same results – so I dropped out of YouTube culinary school – and that’s been the end of that.

Well, when Jesus taught this in the 1st century, everybody understood gardening and the use of leaven.

If He were teaching this for the 1st time in the 21st century, He might have come up with different illustrations.

But in this illustration, He used leaven.

Leaven is yeast and yeast is what makes bread dough rise.

Jesus said His kingdom is like yeast that when put inside of some meal or flour, it grows and begins to permeate and spreads into all the dough.

So, there you have it.

What is the kingdom of God like?

It is like the planting and growth of a mustard plant and like leaven permeating dough.

I think in order to properly explain these parables, there is one more big secret we need to know.

See, there was a secret Jesus didn’t fully reveal about the kingdom until after His resurrection.

And here it is:

The kingdom of God, of which Jesus spoke and of which He is the King, officially began to be called the church on the day of Pentecost.

The Day of Pentecost happened 40 days after Jesus rose from the dead.

I don’t have time this morning to show you from the Bible the glory and truthfulness of this sentence, but it is what breaks open the true meaning of these parables.

Let’s take the first one for example.

Luke 13:19

19 "It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches."

In the first one, the smallest of garden seeds disappears into the ground and then it gradually but persistently grew into the largest plant in the garden.

Well, we know this is a description of the kingdom of God and if the kingdom of God is the church, then this parable is about how the church began and how it will grow.

And it all starts with a mustard seed.

Who or what is the mustard seed?

Well consider this.

One time when Jesus was talking about His pending death, He said this in John 12:24

24 "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.

Although Jesus would end up dying, out of His death, life would spring up and produce much fruit.

Is Jesus the mustard seed here in our first parable?

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Luke 13:19

19 "It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches."

Does Jesus describe Himself as the smallest, the most seemingly insignificant seed in all the garden?

Could it be that the eternal kingdom of God, starts with an obscure man, born of an obscure woman, living in an extremely obscure little village in a less than obscure nation who ends up being murdered and falls into a tomb with only a handful of people around who care?

Small – tiny – fragile.

It seems too fit perfectly.

Jesus died, the disciples scattered, He’s gone and was out of sight for a while, He rose from the dead, gathered His small band of soldiers, gave them instructions, ascended back into heaven and on the Day of Pentecost after being enthroned by the Father, He poured out His Spirit to enlighten and empower them and officially started the kingdom of God with Him as the King.

And on that day, He brought 3,000 new citizens into His kingdom by saving their souls.

It looks like the fireworks have started – the rocket has launched.

But then what happened?

As time progressed, the rocket began to look more like a snail.

For the first 13 years or so, Christianity was a small, local religion that basically stayed in Jerusalem.

Yet year after year it just kept slowly expanding and growing.

After the first 50 years, the first ever Christian generation starts dying off.

But the next generation just kept on growing.

That generation experienced awful persecution from the Roman Empire.

The Romans tried so hard to completely extinguish this new religion – but it miraculously just kept on growing.

Then that generation dies off and here comes the next one.

By the time we get to the 4th or 5th generation – almost 300 years from when the mustard seed was put into the ground - the kingdom of Jesus Christ – Christianity – has become the official recognized religion of the entire Roman Empire.

The very empire that tried with great zeal to extinguish Christianity was now making nests in its very branches.

By the decree of King Jesus who sits on His throne, and by His power, His kingdom has never stopped advancing and look around, here we are today.

From this illustration we see that until Jesus returns, His kingdom will continue to grow as He keeps saving multitudes of his miserable, wretched enemies and graciously bring them lovingly into His glorious kingdom.

Next week in Luke, we will see Jesus explain how you get into His kingdom and who gets into His kingdom.

So, what is something we could take away from this parable of the mustard plant?

Invest completely in the kingdom of God because He never stops saving people.

God doesn’t have a garden of different ideas and activities where all religions lead to heaven.

There is one seed, one plant.

One Christ, one kingdom.

One Jesus, one church.

One true religion, many false ones.

Jesus said:

Matthew 6:33

33 "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

God is completely devoted to His kingdom and to the glory of His King.

And He promises that if we will make His focus, our focus He will take care of all the lesser details of our lives - like food and clothing.

Does Jesus really expect us to invest all that we are in Him and His kingdom?

Does He demand of us that we give to Him all that we are – our hearts, our souls, our minds, our time, our interests, our money, our energy, our delights, our joys.

Does He expect us to enjoy loving Him above all else?


So, who or what are you investing?

Are you building your own kingdom?

Are you investing in your own people, your own interests, your own delights, your own desires?

Of course, we are – to some degree or another.

Yet, every Christian in this room wants to love and honor the Lord Jesus more.

We wish it were not such a struggle – and one day, it won’t be.

But for now, I asked myself how I could invest more in the kingdom of God.

And, there are many ways, so I pondered what the Lord might want me to do now.

As a result, I discussed it with my wife, and we agreed that one thing we could do was to increase what we give to GCC because we can, and we should, and we want to invest more in a kingdom that saves sinners from everlasting hell – just like Jesus did for me.

So, we each picked an amount we wanted to increase and then compared notes and we both sweetly came up with the same number – so we said, well, that’s that, and then we went to have our weekly lunch together.

Today, would you ponder how the Lord might want you to make progress in how you invest in Him and His kingdom?

Invest completely in the kingdom of God because He never stops saving people.

What’s another principle I see taught in this parable of the mustard plant?

Give it time and wait on the Lord

Jesus said His kingdom is like an insignificant seed growing into a great plant.

The seed was small, but not meaningless or unproductive – but progress was also small and took time.

Here’s the point.

What may seem meaningless or unproductive in the kingdom, is exactly the kind of thing the Lord loves to bless and later expand.

For example, how many prayers have you uttered for your lost children or grandchildren – or your lost spouse – loved ones – friends – and they still aren’t saved?

Do your little prayers matter and make a difference?

Do your little comments to them about Jesus, matter or make a difference?

Year after year – prayer after prayer – comment after comment - is it all meaningless and unproductive?

A lady told me she travelled many miles to visit her adult son and although she longed to see him, at the same time she was afraid she would fail the Lord by wimping out and not boldly speaking of Jesus.

She said her son probably thinks he’s a Christian – although he would say he wasn’t one like his mother.

She actually goes to church, gives, volunteers, rejoices in the Lord Jesus and loves being with His people.

He doesn’t like or do any of those things.

She knows he’s lost but it’s so awkward to talk about the Lord.

She fears for his soul and somehow on this trip – face to face, she wants to say or do something that would shine the light of Jesus on his soul.

Well, after 3 days on this trip, she realizes there has been little or no talk of Jesus and now he’s driving her to the airport for her flight home.

And as they are hugging goodbye, she whispers in his ear:

“I love you.”

He sweetly replies, “I love you, too.”

And then she whispered, “But I want you to love Jesus more.”

And then she flew home feeling like a failure to her noble and brave Jesus.

May I say to you, dear woman, learn from this parable that there is nothing too small for God not to bless.

You have no idea how our mighty king might use those simple, even fearful but truthful words you whispered in your son’s ear.

Who knows, the Lord might be using her words right now in your heart.

He did in mine.

What if several of you are thinking – I’m going to say that to my son or daughter, my husband or wife, to my grandchildren and the next thing you know – in years to come - mothers across America, when they hear their lost child say, “I love you” –respond with – “I love you, too but I want you to love Jesus more.”

And nobody but us would know where it started – some little insignificant church in Olive Branch, uttered by some broken-hearted mother that nobody knows – but the Lord knows, and He will use the words of the kingdom that flowed from the heart of that fearful mother who longs for her son to be saved.

I think we could learn from this parable that we must give it time and wait on the Lord.

Don’t lose hope and don’t give up praying and perhaps even whispering.

God delights in taking nothing and creating a universe.

What might He do with tiny, little words that speak of the glory of Jesus Christ?

Take heart, be patient because King Jesus is an expert at knowing how to take what seems so insignificant and small, and turning it into a monument of His power and His grace.

Okay, what about the leaven?

Luke 13:21

21 "It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."

One point and we’re done.

What you believe will end up affecting your whole life.

I think leaven refers to information – your foundational belief system.

It refers to what you think is true - regardless of whether it is actually true or not.

Jesus had earlier said in Luke 12:1

Luke 12:1

1 …“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

The leaven of the Pharisees – their hypocritical belief system – if it got in you – it would infiltrate your heart and mind and end up taking over your entire belief system.

Luke 13:21

21 "It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."

The leaven of the Pharisees is evil but, in this parable, the leaven is good.

You want this leaven although it is still a belief system.

The kingdom of God has a very specific leaven or belief system.

In one word, we call it the gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ or the gospel of the kingdom.

If you hear the gospel and the Holy Spirit releases it into your soul, it will activate like yeast and expand into your heart – your soul – your mind with new and loving thoughts about the Lord Jesus and His people.

The leaven is the invisible work of God that He does in the soul of every person in the mustard plant.

He works from the inside out and when it comes out, it looks like the mustard plant, but the process of change is like the leaven.

What you believe will end up affecting your whole life.

So, be careful what you put into your mind – what influences you allow into your home through TV and the internet and friends.

Instead, keep adding the leaven of the gospel of the Kingdom – the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Focus on the Lord Jesus and think about His love for you – despite your wickedness.

Call upon your heavenly Father to fascinate you once again with the glory of Jesus Christ and forsake your empty love of the fake glitter of the kingdoms of this world.

Jesus is willing to receive into His kingdom His very enemies who will come to Him for mercy.

Instead of destroying you, He will forgive you and change you forever.

Become part of the mustard plant – experience the power of God working in your soul – believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.

Let’s pray.