The Parable of the Mustard Seed

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

The Parable of the Mustard Seed


Today, we are going to look at one of the parables that Jesus gave, and it is probably one that most people are familiar with; the Parable of the Mustard seed. Both Matthew and Mark recorded it in their Gospel. Matthew begins with this brief dialogue by Jesus:

31 Then Jesus told another story: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man planted in his field.
32 That seed is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows, it is one of the largest garden plants. It becomes big enough for the wild birds to come and build nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

He had been teaching them for some time, but He wasn’t through, because it says, “Then Jesus told another story.” This is the third parable that He gave on this occasion. The first was the Parable of the Sower, and the second was the Parable of the Tares. They described the condition of the world, that is, how it will be until Christ returns and establishes His kingdom.

This parable is different because it expresses the small beginnings of it and the large increase and growth of it. The kingdom grows believer by believer. And now, He describes what it is like. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man planted in his field.” The phrase “the kingdom of heaven” refers to God’s rule over the earth. It is His program for building His church during the time in which we live; the period between Christ’s return to heaven and His Second Coming. The “grain of mustard seed” can be either, the Gospel, the people of God, or the grace of God that is in them. The man that sowed it is the Lord Jesus Christ; and the field in which He sowed it is the world or His church throughout the world.

A mustard seed is very small, in fact, Jesus said, “That seed is the smallest of all seeds.” It is often used in The Proverbs to indicate the least thing when making a comparison, and Christ used it in that way in two other parables:

First, in Matthew, Jesus answered, “Because your faith is too small. I tell you the truth, if your faith is as big as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. All things will be possible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

And in Luke, The Lord said, “If your faith were the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Dig yourself up and plant yourself in the sea,’ and it would obey you. (Luke 17:6)

There are smaller seeds, but this is one of the least, or smallest, of all seeds, which were commonly known in Judea. The illustration is meant to express the small beginnings of the church; how it had its beginning through the word of God and by the action of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of His people, and how small their number was at first. In the beginning, the Gospel and the preaching of it were like a grain of mustard seed; little, insignificant and even looked down on. And the circumstances surrounding the Gospel were very discouraging because it was considered a novelty, lacking common sense and reason, and leading to depravity. Also, violent opposition and persecution came close on the heels of Gospel preaching and believing.

This parable can also be applied to the children of God, as well as to the church, for you see, when a person first believes the word of God, faith in Christ is very weak and small, like a grain of mustard seed. And spiritual strength is small, experience in the love of God is small, and the light and knowledge of God’s word is small. So every child of God must experience growth.

The church of God, which sprung up by the preaching of the word, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, was like a small mustard seed. God’s people were small in number in Christ’s time, and for a long time after His ascension the early church made a very appalling figure, because of the outward poverty of the people, and on account of the persecutions that they lived through. Then, to compound their problems, errors and heresies were sown among them by evil men, who crept into the midst of them.

Next, Jesus told His disciples, “It is like a mustard seed that a man plants in his garden. The seed grows and becomes a tree, and the wild birds build nests in its branches.”

At that time, the mustard tree grew to a great size in the land of Judea. I have read that one of the branches of this tree was used to cover a potter’s booth, and in another place, it was said to be as tall as a fig tree. Although the mustard tree grew to this size, it was considered to be a herb, by Christ. So, the illustration given by Christ refers to the very large growth and the increase of the Gospel, of the increase in the number who receive it, and the growth of the church of Christ. The ministry of the Gospel was at first for the Jews only, but afterward, it was given to the Gentiles, and then carried through the whole world. It has made a great deal of progress through the ages, particularly during the Reformation period, and it will increase much more toward the end of time.

Now, as we said previously, this parable is also a picture of how the grace of God works in the heart. There, within the heart of a believer, will develop a gradual increase of assurance and understanding, and of hope and of faith.

Now, this is some information for the future. In the end, during the kingdom age, when Christ reigns over the whole earth, the church will fill the whole earth, and the kingdoms of the world will become the church, and all nations of the earth will flock to it. At that time, we will be favored with the presence of God and the Lamb, and the abundant presence of the Holy Spirit will bring glory and happiness to God’s people, and at that time there will be the glorious appearance of Christ.

Now, the size of the plant was brought more into perspective when Jesus said, “and the wild birds build nests in its branches.” In some places in scripture, the people of God are compared to particular birds; such as the eagle, dove, and sparrow. There are good reasons for making the comparison because at times we are fearful, weak and defenseless. But when we are exposed to danger, we may be wonderfully delivered. At times, we are likely to wander and go astray.

There is safety and security in those branches. Like birds, we are to soar aloft toward the high calling of God, in Christ. Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt 6:33 (KJV) The church of Jesus Christ is growing very slowly today; it is growing one believer at a time. That’s a long way from that great day when Peter preached the first sermon of the New Testament, on the Day of Pentecost, and there were three thousand souls swept into the church at one time.

Peter had just come from the first church service of the New Testament, which was held in that Upper Room. When the first Christian church met, it was very small; it was all contained in one room, and the number of the names was one hundred and twenty.

We are told how many were there in Acts 1:15, “And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about a hundred and twenty,).”

Never before and never since, were such great things undertaken by such a paltry handful. When the apostles undertook to preach the Gospel to the nations, could they have known that it was to end in such great glory when it had such a weak and unlikely beginning? The preaching of the Gospel in the world increased and spread to the remotest nations on the earth, and it continues to grow and will go on until the end of the age.

I want to ask you to pray for the church, and for its ministers. And when you have an opportunity, tell someone about Jesus. Tell them what He has done for you and what He means to you. And if they want to have Christ as their Savior, here is a soul-saving verse for you, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Now, please, join me in prayer.

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