Mustard, Pizza and Cracks in the Pavement

We just finished our regular weekly gathering at the ol' homestead.  The pizza and brownies are all gone, and the last of our friends has ambled out the door.

Wow - what a great night of building each other up in the faith and in the understanding of the kingdom of God.  It's just really, really good to hang out and talk Kingdom with these young men and women!

Yep, the meeting's over but I can't quit thinking about our discussion. 

We talked about how Messiah Jesus got his kingdom rolling during his first visit to the planet, but didn't fully build it right then.  The last few chapters of Revelation tell us how he'll complete the job - hopefully very soon!  So the kingdom is Now, and it's also Not Yet.

We talk about the Now and the Not Yet of Christianity quite a bit around here.  It's a huge part of understanding what Christianity is all about. 

For example, get a load of Matthew 13.

Jesus is talking in parables about the kingdom.  He explains in verses 10 through 17 that he's veiling the message of the kingdom to the crowds - he's describing the kingdom as a prophet would, in odd and offbeat ways that only those with "ears to hear" can understand.

He then compares the kingdom to various seeds, to wheat growing among weeds, and to leaven hidden in measures of flour.  Strange.  Mysterious.  Intriguing!  But what could it all mean?  

Here we'll just take the time to look at verses 31 and 32 - the parable of the mustard seed.
"He presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES."   - Matt. 13:31-32 NASB
Seeds - seeds are small things.  He points out that the mustard seed is smaller than all the others.  But then he says it grows and becomes a tree - a tree in which the birds come and nest in its branches.

I believe that in this parable Jesus was putting a new twist on an old prophecy from Ezekiel 17.  In that chapter, Ezekiel is prophesying against Israel's southern kingdom of Judah.

Ezekiel did his thing during the Babylonian exile, so you'll need to read the whole chapter when you have some time to understand the history.  But here's the story of Ezekiel 17 in a nutshell. 

Ezekiel's telling a parable himself there in chapter 17.   He's saying that King Zedekiah of Judah acted treacherously when he broke an agreement with Babylon's king.  Worst of all - in verse 19, God says that Zedekiah broke covenant with God himself when Zedekiah broke his agreement with Babylon.  This is serious stuff indeed - serious stuff that God promises would get Zedekiah and his army crushed like bugs.

But then Ezekiel records God making a promise - a Messianic promise.  God uses the same figurative language as in the earlier parable.

He promises a Messiah, an anointed king that will ultimately provide leadership and safe shelter not only for Judah, but for the whole world!  Check out verses 22 through 24.
"Thus says the Lord GOD, 'I will also take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and set it out; I will pluck from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one and I will plant it on a high and lofty mountain.

On the high mountain of Israel I will plant it, that it may bring forth boughs and bear fruit and become a stately cedar. And birds of every kind will nest under it; they will nest in the shade of its branches.

All the trees of the field will know that I am the LORD; I bring down the high tree, exalt the low tree, dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will perform it.'"
Beautiful!  God promises that he'll send a Messiah to change everything in Israel.  But not just for Israel alone - notice the bold stuff.  "Birds of every kind" (not just Jewish birds!) nesting "in the shade of its branches."  Wow!

Israel and the world - all under the just leadership of Messiah.

But look again at Jesus' twist of the story.  Notice that he replaces the imagery of the mighty cedar with that of the tiny mustard seed.  The first century author Pliny the Elder, in chapter 54 of book XIX in his Natural History, says the following about the mustard plant:
"though it will grow without cultivation, is considerably improved by being transplanted; though, on the other hand, it is extremely difficult to rid the soil of it when once sown there, the seed when it falls germinating immediately."    
In other words - it spreads and grows like crazy - like a weed!  And there, friends, I believe we see the  shocking, subversive message of the kingdom.

Read all of Matthew 13 and I think you'll see the same message in one way or another in all the parables.  Leaven, wheat and tares, sowers and seed - it's all there.

I think Jesus is saying that the kingdom is coming subtly and unobtrusively at first - not like the majestic cedar tree - but like a sneaky weed.  It's an underground movement.  But then it will grow and ultimately undermine all other kingdoms.

Yes, the kingdom message is subversive.  It has come like a tiny seed, buried and hidden in the dirt.  But it must subvert all other messages, all other powers and all other kingdoms.

And when Messiah brings the kingdom fully - well baby, hang on to your hat - because everything's gonna change.  That's the message of the kingdom.

In our discussion tonight, Dustin brought up the analogy of grass growing in the cracks of a paved sidewalk.  The grass grows inch by inch, little by little until ultimately the sidewalk crumbles.

Such is (or should be!) the kingdom story we live inside and bring to our world.

Now, and Not Yet.

Person to person, community to community.

Now, and Not Yet.

Cultivated first in our minds and hearts - then cracking out in our day-to-day choices, then breaking into our vocations and ultimately subverting the entirety of our life-stories.

Now, and Not Yet.

Until finally Messiah returns to implement the kingdom in its fullness on the planet.  Awesome! 

Father, help us to let the story of your kingdom infiltrate every aspect of our lives and every corner of our world - and then ultimately bring the fullness of your Not-Yet kingdom into the here and Now.

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