The Growth of the Mustard Seed – Jesus’ Parables

As the Lord’s parables about the kingdom continue in Matthew 13, we come to the parable of the mustard seed. It reads:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed; which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds, but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches. (Matthew 13:31-32)

Sowers, Seeds, and Fields

Perhaps you have noticed the first three parables in Matthew 13 have a few things in common. They’re all kingdom parables” (the Sower does not begin with “The kingdom of heaven is like…”, but it focuses on the effect the word of God (the seed of the kingdom) has on the hearts of men. Also, the first parables in Matthew 13 are all agriculture based. The sower went out to sow seed in his field. The field in which good seed was sown was attacked by an enemy who sowed tares in it. Now, a mustard seed is planted.

Is it significant that three seed-based parables are given in succession? Not likely, except that Jesus’ audience would have been well acquainted with these experiences Jesus spoke of. It is likely that as He taught, one parable served as a natural opening to share the next, all on the same general topic, and yet with different lessons.

As Jesus speaks about the mustard seed, His point is not that it is the smallest seed known to man. There are smaller seeds (ie. the orchid seed). Nor is His point that every mustard seed yields a tree large enough for birds to nest in; not all do. Of the seeds sown in first century Palestine, black mustard seed would have been the smallest, but they could produce a tree standing about 12 feet tall. Jesus’ description of the seed and its tree are correct. But keep in mind, the intent of the parable is not to tell about seeds and trees in Palestine, but to teach us about the kingdom of God.

Individual and Universal Growth

What do we learn about the Lord’s kingdom from the mustard seed? There are perhaps two levels on which this parable may be explained, individual or universal. Either way, the beginning is identified as small. The Lord’s church began small, exclusive to the city of Jerusalem, but soon thereafter spread, to the point that eventually the apostle Paul, citing Jesus’ words, would say the gospel had been “…preached to every creature under heaven…” (Colossians 1:23).

The Lord’s church is throughout the world, crossing borders and cultures. If the Bible is available, for it is the seed planted, then the potential for growth is also present. The early church growth is quantified not just in terms of addition, but multiplication (Acts 6:1, 7; 9:31). We’ve got the same seed today, and the church can experience the same results they saw!

As much as growth ought to be seen in the church, it must begin in the hearts of individuals. Jesus spoke of how the word of God will affect the heart in the parable of the Sower. If we receive the word with good and honest hearts, it will grow in us as the mustard seed grows. How does it display itself? The kingdom of God will be more important in our lives than anything else. The other things that “season” who we are (Jesus refers to the herbs that the mustard tree will outgrow) will have less and less influence, but God’s word will increase more and more.

Planting The Seed

In the lives of many today, the gospel is minor, for some, even non-existent. It could be rightly said that the seed of the kingdom is to them “…the least of all the seeds…” What a great thing to know that as we labour as sowers of the good seed, it will take hold in the hearts of some, and become in them a great tree of faith, such that the become a source others may benefit from also (birds nesting).

Has the gospel become like a mustard seed in your life, stretching far beyond any earthly concerns or cares? Do we believe that as we give ourselves to labour in the cause of Christ, just one small seed planted can grow into a huge tree of faith to the glory of God? The Lord said it would; let’s believe and do His will!

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