Matthew 13:31-35 & Marvel at the Shrub

No good Jew doubted that the Kingdom would be glorious, that was expected. What was a shocking stumbling-block, and what Jesus was communicating here, is that it would grow from the smallest, most humble and insignificant of beginnings.

I am not an optimist in regards to history or the future. I don’t suspect that humanity is steadily progressing, nor that the kingdom will ultimately win over the world before Jesus’ return, but I am not a pessimist either. What can we expect in the future? I think things will get both better and worse. The parable of the weeds reminds us that the kingdom hasn’t come in all its fullness yet; and that until the end of the age, evil will grow and our salvation will not be complete. But the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast remind us that the kingdom is growing, and that God’s mission is global.

Our Western eyes too often look on the 20th century as a time of decline for the church; as though she has lost her power and influence. We are missionally myopic judging the whole of Christianity in light of ourselves. I think our arrogance is displayed when speak in such ways as this, “Things are so bad here – Jesus must be coming soon!” Indeed He may come soon, but from a global perspective Christianity has flourished as never before. Consider the following figures (taken from Let the Nations be Glad by John Piper and Operation World by Jason Mandryck):

  • At the beginning of the twentieth century, Europeans dominated the world church, with approximately 70.6 percent of the Word’s Christians. By 1938, on the eve of World War II, the apparent European domination of Protestantism and Catholicism remained strong. Yet by the end of the twentieth century, The European percentage of world Christianity had shrunk to 28 percent of the total; Latin America and Africa combined provided 43 percent of the world’s Christians.
  • In 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians, representing about 10 percent of the population; by 2000, this figure had grown to 360 million, representing about half the population. Quantitatively, this may well be the largest shift in religious affiliation that has ever occurred, anywhere.
  • The number of African Christians is growing at around 2.36 percent annually, which would lead us to project a doubling of the continent’s Christian population in less than thirty years.
  • “This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined.”
  • “The number of practicing Christians in China is approaching the number in the United States.”
  • “Last Sunday . . . more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called ‘Christian Europe.’”
  • ‘Live bodies in church are far more numerous in Kenya than in Canada.”
  • “More believers worship together in Nagaland than in Norway.”
  • “More Christian workers from Brazil are active in cross cultural ministry outside their homelands than from Britain or from Canada.”
  • Last Sunday “more Presbyterians were in church in Ghana than in Scotland.”“The survival and growth of the Church in China are two of the decisive events of our generation. The staggering recent growth of the Chinese Church has no parallel in history – from 2.7 million evangelicals in 1975 to over 75 million in 2010.”

Some look at these figures and say, “Yeah, but they’re not all truly regenerate.” I agree, but many are sons of the kingdom; and oh how sad it is if you don’t have eyes to see the glory of the kingdom and rejoice in it.

We need to be aware, and we need to praise God. We need to be kingdom-minded people. The mustard seed is a shrub – marvel at it!

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