The Lord used the tiny mustard seed to illustrate two truths during His ministry. One truth was regarding the size of the disciples faith, and the other, the nature of the Kingdom..
11 – Mustard Seed
31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
Questions to Consider
Who were the audience?
See Parable Surprises – Growing Seed
When did the Lord give this parable?
See Parable Surprises – The Sower of the Seed
Where did the Lord teach the parable?
See Parable Surprises – The Sower of the Seed
Why did the Lord give this message?
As the Lord was walking this earth, teaching, healing and challenging those that would hear His message, it became apparent that the message was not being received well, and that the size of the following would expand greater than all could imagine.
There may have been two motives for this, and I am totally imagining this scenario, so judge as you may, but the first motive may have been to encourage the disciples. The movement may not have been growing at the rate they expected. It is good to remember that these men left their livelihood to follow this King, and many times we tend to get anxious about the expected results. This may be a motive for this message.
A secondary reason the Lord supplied this teaching was for the disciples in the future. Remember that often the Lord provides teaching of the future to give confidence after the prophecy has been fulfilled (see Purpose of Prophecy).
Again this was for the benefit of the believing crowd. The masses were not catching the parable teaching (see Parable Surprises – Why?) and until they came to faith, it was so much “pie in the sky”.
May it be that the Lord taught this parable to “show off”, to tell those listening that He was going to have a bigger kingdom than anyone, that “His Father could beat up their father”?
You know – it doesn’t fit in with the meek and lowly Jesus, the One who simply states a truth and let’s the truth do it’s work. Don’t get me wrong when I refer to meekness as weakness. Or lowliness as a shyness in His character. He isn’t shy, or a “wilting flower” – no no no. He enters into environments where the animosity is thicker than pea soup, states the truth and stands His ground. But He doesn’t argue a point, get heated in a verbal “wrestling match”, or enter into “back and forths” with his adversaries. He is confident in His standing before God. He is stating a truth of the Kingdom, not “showing off” He doesn’t need to enter into a vain display of importance. He is Lord.
What was the message for the original audience?
At the risk of sounding like an MLM salesman, Jesus was giving the disciples information of being in on the ground floor of a “tremendous opportunity”. Jesus was (re)introducing the Kingdom to Israel, and this Kingdom would expand beyond the borders of a small middle eastern nation, to envelop the world.
Within 300 years, every king and nation had fallen to the Lord Jesus, with His followers spreading the Kingdom and it’s influence far and wide. Was Jesus hinting at the gentile inclusion into the Kingdom – highly doubtful. Looking back it seems obvious, but the disciples were struggling with the Kingdom’s relationship within Israel at the time!
The Kingdom of God, that was (and is) principally the message of Jesus, started out seemingly insignificant, tiny, and without impact. Sure a dozen or so men and a few women travelled with the Messiah, but these types of groups fell away after the leader was gone. (Consider Acts 5:35 – 38)
What is the message for us today?
We are in the middle or end of the growth cycle of the mustard seed, depending on your eschatology. No matter, the realization of the Kingdom has been accomplished in many ways, and we are to maintain (better yet – expand) the Kingdom. We are to be that “tree” that offers shelter to the birds, that they make their nests in our branches. We are to be a blessing, a sanctuary of protection to those who would seek it.
Birds don’t make nests in trees that are poisonous, full of hazards and insecurities. They avoid trees that are weak and unstable.
Something to consider.
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6 thoughts on “Parable Surprises – The Mustard Seed”
Explain your thought on the foxes and vine please.
Great post and also great conversation.
Andy has it correct in my way of thinking. Were we not told that it is the little foxes that spoil the vine. Could this be the parallel parable? Just a thought in passing.
Another interesting and well written post in the series. Thank you. What do you think about the idea of the birds of the air being consistent with the parable of the sower? That is, that they represent the evil one. In the Mustardseed parable context, this might mean that the church has grown to such a large extent that even the evil one tries to sneak into its branches? Just an idea.
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Thanks for the encouraging words Andy.
I have at times considered the mention of the birds in this parable as a possible link to the evil one but a couple things give me hesitation.
First, a brother who discipled me decades ago warned me to not to try to make a parable supply too many messages. Look for the main point Carl.
Secondly, I considered the idea of leaven always representing sin, and yet the Lord Himself referred to a woman adding leaven to flour in order to describe the active power of the growth of the church. (Would the leaven then be likened to the Holy Spirit?)
I tend to see the parable describing the church (not necessarily the visible organized church) that has surprising growth, and that provides shelter for those in it’s Kingdom. (Doh – 2 points! – I broke my brudders guidance!)
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Thank you-very helpful