The Parable Of The Mustard Seed


In the ‘The Parable Of The Growing Seed’, Mark 4.26-29, we see how Jesus explained how the spiritual kingdom of God grows. We see that this kingdom’s growth was orderly.

Just like our physical growth, we grow through infancy, childhood, youth and manhood. In other words, it takes time and we need to be patient.

We also see how the kingdom’s growth is from God Himself. We plant the seed and water it when we get the chance but it’s God who causes the seed to grow. And we don’t know how God does this but we know He does because we’re here as Christians today.

We’re going to learn another aspect of this kingdom’s growth but from a different point of view. We’re going to look at ‘The Parable Of The Mustard Seed”, which is taken from the garden or the field point of view.

Everything God created has a purpose and we can learn many lessons from nature, and that includes the mustard seed.

During Biblical times, it was very common practice to talk about the mustard seed as one of the smallest seeds. Now strictly speaking it wasn’t the smallest seed around at this time but the tiny mustard seed was used to speak of anything minute. For example, Jesus spoke of faith, as a grain of mustard seed, Matthew 17:20 / Luke 17:6.

Let me say a few words about the mustard plant before we go on because this will help us in our understanding of the parable. The Palestinian mustard plant, because of its size wasn’t set out in the garden but it was usually found in an open field, and these things grow to between 10 and 12 feet in height.

When it comes to shrubs, this was the giant, its branches were so large they would spread out like a tree. And so because of its size, it would very often attract many birds.

During the time of Jesus, birds would often be seen in the branches of the mustard plant as they fed on the small black seeds of the mustard pods.

And like we know about all of Jesus’ parables, He reveals a secret about how the kingdom of God grows from an everyday event.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 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.” Matthew 13:31-32

Now I’m going to share with you 3 points on this parable.

1. Just because something is little, doesn’t mean it’s not important.

When you look at the small mustard seed and you see how microscopic it is, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s not worth much. But when you talk to someone who grows these plants you will find exactly how valuable it really is.

As a spice, mustard is sold in seed or powder form and even today you can buy it in paste form. In other words, the little mustard seed by itself doesn’t look so important, but man’s experience teaches him not to minimise it.

And I guess what I’m saying is that the little things in life should never be discounted. When you look at the world today, it’s obsessed with bigness.

The Great Wall of China is 1700 miles long. The Alaskan Pipeline runs for 800 miles.

The Empire State Building, which was built in New York in 1931, is 102-story high.

So many of our modern-day skyscrapers dwarf the tower of Babel.

When you think about our farmers, they’re termed as successful according to the bigness of their operations.

And so to a world obsessed with magnitude, Jesus says, ‘pay attention to the little things’. A cup of cold water, Mark 9:41, a visit to the sick, a welcome to a stranger, a lost sheep, Jesus says, “These are the little things”.

In Matthew 25:35-36 when Jesus is talking about the great division which will happen on judgement day, notice He doesn’t want you to feed the world, He doesn’t want you to solve world poverty. It’s not big things He wants from us, it’s little things.

Give a hungry person someone to eat, give a thirsty person something to drink. Give someone who needs clothes, some clothes, look after and visit the lonely and sick.

These aren’t big tasks, they’re little mission fields that we all can do.

And what I’m saying is that just because someone has a small task within God’s kingdom doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. Doing a good deed for someone spreads the Gospel faster than 100 sermons. And that’s because just like a grain of mustard seed, they increase in size beyond imaginable proportion.

2. However important little things may be, the parable focuses on the consequences of little beginnings.

The Egyptians were famous and still are famous for their pyramid buildings and one of the greatest pyramids built was built at Giza. It contained an inner chamber where the Pharaohs were buried; his followers were usually buried in there too along with some of his personal artefacts.

The rest of the pyramid complex consisted of a large enclosure, an adjacent mortuary temple, and a walkway leading down to a pavilion. And when you look at these magnificent structures, you can’t help but stand in awe.

But when you think about it, these structures started with one brick.

Vincent Van Gogh has got many famous paintings but each one started with a single stroke of the brush.

The German composer Ludwig Van Beethoven started his great symphonies and concertos with a single note.

In literature, every book ever written, every essay, and every poem all comes from the 26 letters of the alphabet.

In fact, the world’s biggest things have generally had small beginnings. Momentous deeds and earth circling revolutions can be traced back to a speck, like a germ of mustard seed.

When you think about Christianity, the world’s greatest movement had its beginnings in a manger in Bethlehem, Luke 2:10-12.

The proud and busy Roman world didn’t take any notice of the day when Jesus was born. And it casually took notice of His life, and even when Jesus died, the Roman world didn’t care much, why?

Because Jesus was born in a manger, He was a carpenter from Nazareth and when He died, He was now gone, so much for a great leader!

And certainly, in outward appearances, Jesus looked less than the least of all seeds, His followers were counted by the dozen, not by the thousands.

And yet, from only a handful of disciples, and in spite of their leader’s death on a cross. There sprang into existence the universal church of the Lord Jesus Christ, which you and I are members of today.

You know twenty-one centuries have come and gone, and today He still remains the central figure for much of the human race. We should learn the lesson from the mustard seed.

A thing may be small, almost without hope but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to succeed. Jesus is saying that small beginnings can succeed because it’s God who is behind it.

Do you honestly think that the first-century disciples ever thought that their small faith would have had such an impact on the world today?

Their faith began unnoticed, just like the tiny mustard seed but look at it now, it has gone all around the world. Jesus said with faith like that, ‘you can move mountains, you can tell a tree to go and plant itself in the sea’.

That’s faith, that’s leaving things in God’s hands because you know that God is in control.

3. Don’t miss the point of this parable’.

Some people like to believe that the branches, which Jesus talks about here, Matthew 13:31-32, are symbolic of modern-day denominations.

In other words just as the birds come and sit in the branches of the tree, s it’s said that people can come and enter the different branches or denominations of the church.

But there are a few problems with this interpretation, they fail to ask the questions we have been asking with every parable we’ve looked at.

Who was Jesus speaking to and what did it mean to them?

Jesus was speaking to His disciples, Matthew 13:10.

Was denominationalism around in Jesus’ day? No!

Some people try to understand the parable by looking at Christianity today. What they need to do is look at Christianity as we find it in the first century.

It’s all too easy to make something mean something, which Jesus never meant it to mean. It’s too easy to speak of branches of the church, but in the days of Christ and His apostles, these different so-called branches or divisions of Christianity were unknown.

The Bible nowhere teaches that there are many churches, the Bible always talks about the unity of the church as in singular. Jesus didn’t say, “on this rock, I will build my churches.” He said, “I will build my church, singular.” Matthew 16:18.

Now there are other people who like to say that this parable was a prophecy of Jesus. In other words, this parable remained unfulfilled until the recent rise of denominationalism, rubbish! This takes their interpretation too far, there’s no need to make everything in the parable mean something.

The branches of the mustard tree aren’t the main focus of Jesus’ attention any more than the man who sowed the mustard seed or the nests that were made in the tree’s branches.

The point of the parable is simply that the microscopic mustard seed grows into a tree. large enough for the birds to come and nest in it.

The man who sowed the seed, the field or garden, the nests, and the birds themselves, are all incidental to the one central truth of the parable.

And that’s this, the kingdom of God, even with a small beginning would prosper and prevail over all other kingdoms. That’s what Jesus is getting at, that’s what He is teaching His disciples.

Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel 2:31-45, is important because it helps us in our understanding of this parable. Let me give you a quick rundown of what this dream means.

Daniel 2:32 talks about “The head” as being made of pure gold, this is talking about The Babylonian Empire.

Daniel 2:32 also talks about “The chest and arms” as being made of silver, this is talking about The Medo Persian Empire.

Daniel also mentions “The belly and thighs” as being made of bronze, this is talking about The Roman Empire.

And in Daniel 2:34 Daniel talks about “This rock”, which is not made by human hands.

The stone cut not by human hands, struck the image down and became “a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” In other words, Daniel prophesied that God’s kingdom was destined to conquer all other kingdoms, Daniel 2:35.

Now did Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream come true and was it accurate?

Yes, it did, all you have to do is read your history books and you will see how accurate it was. And you will read about how one kingdom fell after another, all the great historian writers tell us all about it.

So what can we learn from this parable? Let me give you a couple of things to think about. Do you realise that you are a part of a kingdom that will never be destroyed and will last forever?

But don’t take my word for it, take God’s word, Daniel 2:44. If you’re a Christian today then you’re a part of God’s spiritual kingdom right now.

Notice that Paul doesn’t say, ‘will be in heaven’ but “is in heaven”, that’s present tense, Philippians 3:17-20. Now you may be thinking to yourself that you would like to become a part of this kingdom but you haven’t got much to offer, well just remember what we’ve learned today.

Jesus says that it’s the little things you have got to offer that can make all the difference.

You might not be able to preach or teach, but you can certainly write a letter of encouragement to other Christians in Jesus’ name. You might not be able to song lead, but you can come to worship and encourage everyone with your friendly smile in Jesus’ name.

In a world where people say that size matters, Jesus says, “give me what you can and I will do wonders with it.” Look at what He did with a couple of fish and 5 loaves of bread. Look at what He did with six stone water jugs after they have been filled with water.

Imagine what He can do with you if you would only give yourself to Him first.