All of you High Pointers out there know that recently we started a study on the various parables that Jesus taught about God’s kingdom in an attempt to learn how His kingdom works. We are doing this through a series entitled “The Mysteries of the Kingdom.”
So, we started out looking at the kingdom principle of seedtime & harvest through Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. In it, we saw that the seed is the Word of God and the ground that it is sown into is our hearts. So, while everything in God’s kingdom begins with a seed, it all has to do with the heart. It’s been very eye opening as we have learned how to get this seedtime & harvest principle working for us instead of against us.
But this Parable of the Sower certainly was not the only time Jesus used the analogy of sowing & reaping to describe the workings of the kingdom of God. In fact, the analogy of a seed and the fruit it produces was His most oft-used analogy to teach about what the kingdom is like.
And today, I want us to look at another one of these seedtime & harvest type parables—because I see this next parable as a beautiful description of exactly what we celebrated last Sunday: Let’s look at Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed.
First of all, let me say that I consider the truth contained in this parable to be so pertinent to understanding the kingdom of God because a failure to understand this is what caused much of the doubt in God’s chosen people regarding their Christ.
You see, to the Jewish mind, the Christ was coming to release them from their captivity. He was coming to deliver them from their oppressors. This was how they interpreted the various prophecies that were made concerning their Messiah, and understandably so. For it would have taken one with exceptional spiritual perception to see that the Messiah was first coming to free them, not from the natural oppressor, but from their spiritual oppressor. But the Lord Jesus indeed came to, first of all, deliver mankind from the dominion of sin. In other words, He came to deliver us from the root of sin before He set us free from the fruit of sin—which were all of the injustices going on in this sin-cursed planet. Therefore, even those as spiritually perceptive as John the Baptist doubted because they did not see the immediate freedom from their Roman oppressors.
And this is why I believe Jesus gave us the Parable of the Mustard Seed—It was to teach the people that the kingdom will not appear and manifest in the manner in which they expected it to, but will come in a slow, gradual manner.
So, let’s begin looking at this parable and see not only what Jesus was teaching His disciples of that day, but also what He is teaching His disciples still today.
THE KINGDOM’S PERFECT PICTURE
I want us to do this by looking at all three instances where it was given in the Gospels. Let’s look first at Matthew’s account:
In Matthew 13:31-32, Jesus said, “Another parable He put forth to them, saying: ‘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.’”
In Mark 4:30-32, Jesus said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.”
And finally, in Luke 13:18-19, we see that Jesus said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”
Now, first of all, it is important to note that in both Mark & Luke’s account of this parable, they both quote Jesus as saying essentially the same thing— “What is the kingdom of God like? And with what parable can we use to compare it to?”
This shows us that Jesus was drawing on the single best natural example that He could, to paint a picture of what the kingdom of God is like. In other words, this parable is the one specific illustration Jesus chose to use to describe to us what things look like in the kingdom of God. This is important, church, because out of every example from this world that Jesus could have used to illustrate God’s kingdom, He chose to use the example of a mustard seed. And that is the part of this parable that is of the most importance—the mustard seed.
FAITH AS A MUSTARD SEED
It shouldn’t surprise us that out of all the things Jesus could have used to describe the kingdom of God, that He would use the mustard seed. Why? It is because this was one of Jesus’ most oft used objects to illustrate the workings of His Father’s kingdom. In fact, twice we see Jesus teaching His disciples how if they just had faith as a mustard seed that they could see supernatural results such as mountains being removed, and trees being uprooted:
In the first instance I am referring to, Jesus was talking about the casting out of the demon from the epileptic boy, and when His disciples asked him why they could not cast it out, He responded— “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you had faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing shall be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20). In the other instance, Jesus’ disciples heard Jesus teach on the importance of forgiveness. So, His disciples immediately responded to the call for unlimited forgiveness by saying, “Increase our faith!” Then Jesus responds by saying, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6). So, in both of these instances, faith is the subject, and it is likened to a mustard seed. (Isn’t it also interesting that He talked about something being “uprooted” when talking about the faith needed for unlimited forgiveness?)
Now as we are looking at how the kingdom of God operates in this series, this is a point that needs to be made—EVERYTHING in God’s kingdom operates by faith. It’s not our works; nor is it solely God’s grace. No, faith is what the kingdom of God works on. Yes, what God has done had to happen first, and yes, what we do plays a part in some things. But faith—which is simply us believing in what God has done by His grace—is necessary to receive all of the benefits of His grace.
But the point that Jesus was making in these Scriptures is that we do not need great faith to see great results; all we need is faith as a mustard seed—which was widely viewed in their days to be the smallest of all seeds (a point we will get into later).
But many Christians still err today regarding this, believing that they just need “more faith” in order to see “more results.” This is exactly what Jesus was countering in both of these passages. No, friends, we do not need more faith; all we need is to use a little of the faith that we already have. But someone will invariably respond to this, “But Trey, I do believe! I do have faith! Yet I am not seeing those results.” But this is when we need to consider what else Jesus was saying in these verses.
You see, a little mustard seed does you no good if it is not planted and allowed the opportunity to grow and produce, does it? And as we are about to learn in this Parable of the Mustard Seed, this particular seed has a supernatural ability to produce and grow to become greater than all other herbs. To me, this is the point Jesus was making: It is not about having more faith; it is simply about learning to plant the faith we have and allowing it the opportunity to grow and produce its supernatural results.
So, then the obvious question is: How do you plant those mustard seeds of faith? And the answer to this question is found in both of these passages of Scripture: Jesus said Matthew 17:20, “You shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there.’” And also in Luke 17:6, “You shall say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea.’”
What is the common thread you see here? It is that the way we plant our faith into the situations and circumstances that are currently in our lives, in order to see them removed, is by speaking to them. Yes, we sow little mustard seeds of faith by speaking faith-filled words! This is how faith works! This is how faith produces wonder-working results! It must be planted, and then allowed the time to germinate under the ground until it springs up in the natural and changes those situations and circumstances! Never forget: saying is sowing. Hallelujah!
But where you see this kingdom principle fail in so many believers’ lives is in that time between when the mustard seed is sown and the time it begins to bear fruit in the natural. And sometimes that is a long period of time, saints. But this is how the kingdom generally works: First seed, then time, and then (after what generally is a longer period of time than our flesh would like) the harvest! His kingdom does not usually manifest when we want it to.
And this is exactly what Jesus was teaching in His Parable of the Sower we are looking at—that the kingdom of God is progressive, and it is growing. But the key in understanding them is in knowing that it grows underneath the ground first. In other words, its progress is usually unseen. And that is when we must believe that God is working—not when we see it, but when we know He said it. This is faith and this is kingdom living.
WHAT IS THE MUSTARD SEED?
But let’s continue today focusing on the example of a mustard seed itself because I believe we can see from this example why this was what Jesus chose to use …
Now it has been said that a mustard seed was one of the smallest seeds that they had in Jesus’ day. However, this very small seed was capable of growing up into a large shrub that would usually get up to ten feet in height (in some cases 20 feet). While there were many other seeds that they had that were larger than a mustard seed, a lot of them would only produce a plant the fraction of the size of these mustard trees.
So, the obvious point Jesus was making was that the kingdom of God does not come in a grand and glorious fashion. It begins rather humbly, small, and seemingly insignificant.
Now this has a whole range of applications but one of the main ones that I want us to see (and that I believe the Lord wanted us to see originally) is how this mustard seed was HIM. Yes, the mustard seed in this parable was referring the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! Let me explain …
Notice in Luke’s account how Jesus went on to describe this mustard seed as that “which a man took and put in his garden” (Luke 13:19).
Now I think it’s obvious who this “man” was that Jesus was referring to—It’s God the Father. God took His only begotten Son and intentionally sowed Him on the earth, which is His garden. Yes, He took He Whom was from the beginning—the Word—and sowed Him into His field known as the earth.
Now that is reminiscent of how the Bible teaches us that God placed the first Adam in His garden, isn’t it? In Genesis 2:15, we are told— “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” So, just by that one Scripture, it seems obvious that the “man” that Jesus referred to is “the Lord God” and the “mustard seed” that He put in His garden is the Man, Jesus Christ, also known as the Last Adam.
But in the case of Jesus, He wasn’t just put here on the earth to tend and keep it; no, Jesus—as that mustard seed—came to be sown into it not just onto it. And we know how this happened: He was crucified and sown into that tomb like a seed, but like it is with planting seeds, the purpose was not just for His crucifixion and burial; the ultimate goal was for a resurrection of that Seed! And this is exactly what happened! God received a harvest from that Mustard Seed He sowed into the earth! Amen!
Then Luke’s Gospel goes on to tell us that this mustard seed “grew,” which is also how Jesus was described in the beginning of this very Gospel:
You see, we understand that from the time Jesus was born in a stable to the time of His death on the Cross, He had no form or comeliness (i.e., no majestic form or splendor) and there was no beauty that we should desire Him. As the prophet Isaiah also stated— “For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground.” (See Isaiah 53:2). Yes, saints, Jesus was that mustard seed—that tender plant that grew up out of dry ground! He was the Word sown by the Father into this world which is His field. Indeed, our Heavenly Father said, “Light be,” and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. (Compare John 1:1-14).
In Luke 2:40 we see that Jesus “grew” and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him. Then in Luke 2:51, we see that He “increased” in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
But it wasn’t just Jesus that was doing the growing; it was His kingdom that was increasing as well! Yes, throughout His entire ministry, His kingdom was growing. It was expanding. Might we say, the King and His kingdom was taking “ground”?
So, this is how it started. But when Jesus went to the Cross for us, that was when that mustard seed brought forth the most “mustard!” A point we will get into momentarily.
But back to the fact that the Mustard Seed was one of the smallest:
THE SMALLEST TO THE GREATEST
You see, as I just mentioned, the kingdom of God and its Christ did not come in a grand and glorious fashion. Jesus and His kingdom came as the least, humbly to be a servant of all. From His own mouth, He said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).
And, herein lays another great principle of the kingdom of God: it is that the first will be last and the last will be first. As this same passage in Matthew chapter 20 states—“whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave.” (Matthew 28:26-27).
This is how God’s kingdom operates, church. We see this by how the Christ and His kingdom came in an unassuming way. And it will operate the same in our lives as we lay down our lives and learn to become “the least of all seeds” ourselves. May it be so in all of us, Lord! Amen.
But the wonderful promise that we have through this kingdom principle is that when one does humble himself and puts him or herself last, promotion is on the way. This is what Jesus went on to describe in the Parable of the Mustard Seed when He said, “but when it is grown (i.e., this is that due season where we will reap if we faint not), it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree…”
We see this in the life of Jesus, who humbled Himself even unto the death of the Cross. And we see how now God also has highly exalted Him, giving Him the name above every other name! Amen! (Compare Philippians 2:5-11). And I can assure you, church—the same will work for us too! As we sow ourselves as a mustard seed into this world, laying down our lives and taking up our cross, we can expect the Lord to exalt us in due time. This is just how the kingdom works!
Saints, do you want to be great in the kingdom of God? Do you want to be a great tree, planted in the most honorable place and position? Well, this is what the Lord wants for you as well. He says, “Oh, that all of my people who are called by my name may become trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that I may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3) Be it so, Lord, according to Your Word. Amen.
THE BIRDS AND THE BRANCHES
And, last but not least, Jesus goes on to describe that when this little mustard seed grows to become this great tree, “the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
So, what do these birds represent? Well, earlier in the day when Jesus gave His Parable of the Sower, the birds of the air described the prince of the power of the air—Satan—and his demons who come to steal the Word that is sown in our hearts.
Now we know that Satan and his demons are not finding refuge in God’s kingdom, so this could not be the correct interpretation here. But I do believe in this parable, Jesus is again referring to heavenly beings, but this time it is God’s heavenly angels.
You see, the Book of Hebrews teaches us that when Jesus came to the earth, He was made a little lower than the angels (See Hebrews 2:9). This did not mean that He lost His divinity or was considered lower than God’s angels in rank or position, but rather that He was made lower through His humanity and abilities. In other words, because He became human for the suffering of death on the Cross, He was made flesh and, thereby, became lower than the angels.
Now we know that after He was raised from the dead and received His glorified body that He is no longer lower than the angels. Now He has become greater than they! (Hebrews 1:4-14).
So, in this parable, the mustard seed which once was "food" for the birds of the air has become so much greater than those same birds and even provides for them now. In other words, when Jesus Christ was a man, He was indeed a little lower than the angels, but now He is so much greater than they.
Saints, Jesus has received a more excellent name through His death, burial, and resurrection! And now that He has been seated at the right hand of His Father and has been given the name above every name, He is far above all principality, power, might, dominion, and every name that is named! (Ephesians 1:20-21). Hallelujah!
So herein lies another great principle of God’s kingdom for us to understand: If all things have been put under His feet (Ephesians 1:22), then all things must also be put under us because we are His body, the church. Yes, saints, we are His branches (See John 15:5). Therefore, being parts of His body and heirs of this kingdom, we have been given authority to use the name of Jesus and cast out the kingdom of darkness and we also have the blessed promise that the Lord’s angels will minister to those who have inherited salvation. Amen!
Beloved, this is something that we need to understand and embrace: that we are extremely valuable and blessed being a part of this kingdom. Many Christians have this mentality that we are just little sinners who happen to be saved by grace, but nothing could be further from the truth! We were sinners, but when we were saved and became members of this everlasting kingdom which cannot be shaken, we are no longer just helpless pawns to Satan and his kingdom. Jesus said that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church, and we are that church—the branches of that mustard tree that was sown into the earth and has arisen from the ground! Glory to the Lamb!