February 17th, 2019

The Difference Between Small and Insignificant
Matthew 13:31-35

Several years ago I was traveling down Interstate 95 and a billboard caught my attention. It was advertising a church in costal Georgia, somewhere near the little town of South Newport. The sign invited travelers to come and see the “Smallest Church in America.”

Now, I’ve been to some pretty small churches so I couldn’t imagine a bona fide church smaller than some I’d seen, so I pulled off the interstate and went to see it. Indeed, it was undoubtedly the smallest church in America. The building was a mere 10 by 15 feet and provided seating for 13 worshippers.

Despite its size, though, it was a pretty little church. It had stained-glass windows and highly polished handmade pews. Several photos were posted at the entrance, mostly pictures of couples who had chosen to have their wedding there.

I don’t know why, but I felt something special that day as I stood alone inside this closet-sized sanctuary. As I stood there, bathed in stained-glass light, I sensed the presence of God. And as I walked back to my car I can remember thinking, “Even though this place is small, I bet it’s still significant.”

“Small.” “Significant.” You don’t hear those two words used together much in our society, do you? “Significant” is usually associated with big words like enormous, colossal, massive, titanic. Seldom do you hear somebody referring to something that is small AND significant.

But Jesus did. When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God he let the disciples know that size was not a proper measure of those things significant.

Listen to Jesus’ words in today’s text found in Matthew 13:31–35.

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” 33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” 34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

In this text, Jesus uses two object lessons to explain the difference between small and insignificant. First, he talks about a mustard seed. He tells his followers not to be tricked by the size of the little mustard seed. Granted, it’s small, but small doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. To the contrary, when you plant the little mustard seed it grows up to be a 12 foot tall tree, a tree big enough for birds to come and make their homes. Yes, Jesus used that parable to let his followers know that there’s a difference between small and insignificant.

Then he used a second parable to reinforce the same point. This time Jesus aimed his illustration at the ladies in his audience (or at the men who like to bake). He said, “You all know about yeast don’t you? It’s that little substance you work into your bread. How much of that yeast do you need to make giant loaves of bread? Just a pinch, right? Now, think about that. Just a pinch of yeast results in a giant loaf of bread. So don’t let anyone tell you that small means insignificant, because there’s a difference between small and insignificant.”

Let me tell you why Jesus was trying to get this point across to his disciples. Jesus knew that the day would come when his Kingdom movement would be small, almost minuscule. As he was telling the parables, the crowds were huge, but Jesus knew that the crowds would desert him and that his Kingdom would finally be entrusted to nothing more than a rag-tag compendium of a dozen men. So that’s why he told these parables about the mustard seed and the yeast. He wanted his disciples to know that even when they became small in number, they would still possess the power to change the world; and change the world they did. From that rag-tag dozen disciples grew the church of Jesus Christ.

So don’t let anyone tell you you’re insignificant simply because you’re small. In God’s eyes, there’s a real difference between small and insignificant.

In his famous sermon, “One Solitary Life,” Dr. James Allan Frances talks about the seemingly insignificance life of Jesus. He writes,

He was a man born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.
He never owned a home; never wrote a book; never held an office; never had a family; never went to college; and never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness.
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a fake trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves, and while dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was so destitute they buried him in a borrowed grave, donated through the pity of a friend.
But . . . but, twenty long centuries have come and gone, and today He is the centerpiece of the human race. So I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that have ever set sail; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that have ever reigned, all put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has this one solitary life.”

Yes, Jesus was the tiny mustard seed that grew to be the tree of faith, and you and I are the birds that rest upon his branches today. So don’t let anyone tell you that you have to be big to be significant, because Jesus showed - in his own life - that there’s a giant, eternal difference between small and insignificant.

So what do the words of Jesus say to you and me? I think the message in these parables is ever so clear. We don’t have to be a big church to be significant in the Kingdom of God. If God can turn a mustard seed into a giant tree, I’m convinced he can do something significant with you and me.

Sometimes, because of our small number, we start thinking of ourselves in diminutive terms. We start thinking of our church as some insignificant little institution, some floundering little congregation that can hardly survive. We don’t think we’ve got any power or any clout. We can’t imagine our scant little number doing anything to make a difference in Grainger County, much less making a difference in the world. But may I remind you, that in the Kingdom of God, there’s a difference between small and insignificant. For when the power of God’s Holy Spirit indwells the hearts of women and men, great things happen.

The world was changed by the life of one solitary man.

The church was born from a tiny compendium of rag tag disciples.

Jews embraced Gentiles because one Pharisee named Saul caught the fire of God.

In the dark ages, the church was revived and reformed by one lowly monk named Martin Luther.

And in our lifetime, millions have come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ upon hearing the words of a backwoods, country preacher named Billy Graham.

So don’t tell me that it takes a big crowd to change the world. It doesn’t! For if God can cause the mustard seed to become a giant tree, just think about what he can do with you and me.

Do you know the story of Telemachus? He was a nobody until after his death; just an obscure, little monk who lived in the desert.

In 404 AD he visited Rome. Once in Roman he was shocked as he learned about the gladiator games in the coliseum. He couldn’t believe that in a city, touted as the capital of Christendom that gladiators fought to the death while the crowds roared to see more blood.

When he first saw this spectacle, Telemachus was horrified, so horrified that he leapt into the arena, stood between the gladiators and insisted they stop fighting.

They tossed him aside, but when he continued to get in the way the Roman official in charge flashed the “thumbs down,” and Telemachus was run through with the sword.

Suddenly, a hush fell over the entire crowd as they realized what had happened: a little, holy man lay dead because of his Godly respect for human life. And on that day, this obscure hermit from the desert changed the course of human history. From that day on, the inhumane games ceased. Never, again, did Rome host the hideous event. On that day, God used a small little man to make a giant difference in the world.

Today, God wants to use you to make a gargantuan difference in our world. Granted, your talents may be small and your resources meager, but in the Kingdom of God there’s a difference between small and insignificant, and that difference - is the wonder-working power of God.

And please, never let us forget that God wants to use Rutledge Baptist Church to make a difference in Grainger County. Granted, there are other churches around us with more people and more means, but that doesn’t make us insignificant. We are the church of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, entrusted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and though we may be but a mustard-seed-sized-church, within our hearts lies the power of God.
Yes, in the Kingdom of God, there’s a difference between small and insignificant.

So never imagine that your lack of wealth disqualifies you from being effective. Use what little you have and watch what God can do.

Never claim that the smallness of your talent is a handicap in the work of God. Use what talent you have and watch what God can do.

Never allow the size of our congregation to excuse some grand effort. Let us use every opportunity we have and watch what God will do.

For in the Kingdom of God there’s a grand, eternal difference between small and insignificant. And that grand, eternal difference is simply called the power of God.