Matthew 13:31, 32 * Mark 4:3-32 * Luke 13:18, 19
The Smallest of Seeds
Jesus tells two more parables concerning the Kingdom of Heaven. In the first parable he tells his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed and in the second parable he tells his disciples the kingdom of heaven is like yeast in flour. We shall look at the parable of the Mustard Seed this week and Lord willing we will examine the parable of the yeast next Lord’s Day.
These two parables are like the old 45 RPM records that had an A side and a B side. These two parables form a pair to teach the growth of the Kingdom of God. Matthew places these two parables together in chapter 13 possibly for topical reasons. Luke, on the other hand places these parables in the so called “traveling narratives” which range from Luke 9:51-19:27, which may have been the historical order of the parables. It is safe to assume that Jesus probably taught these two parables at the same time to make his point.
In the land of Israel in the days of Christ the mustard seed was a proverb representing the smallest of all things. It was possibly not the smallest seed in existence. The cypress seed apparently is smaller than a mustard seed. The mustard seed was universally used as a type of anything that was extremely small. This analogy would have been well known when Jesus taught it. For example; the Rabbis taught about “a spot of blemish as small as a mustard seed.” The Arabs have a phrase about “faith weighing not more than a grain of mustard seed.”
In Matthew and Mark the point teaching is teaching is that in time the smallest see grows into the largest of herbs. It is interesting to note that mustard was not a garden plant. Due to its size, particularly its height, it was planted in fields, and typically at the edge of a field. A mustard plant grew to about 7 or 8 feet high and its branches resembled the branches of a tree. There is a story of a traveller in Israel who claimed to have “up rooted” a mustard plant of over 12 feet in height.
Because they plants are relatively tall and have many strong branches, birds often nested in the upper branches. Apparently the birds loved the little black seeds that they picked out of the pods.
Lesson number one from this parable is that although the Kingdom of Heaven is starting very small, insignificant, and almost indiscernible in its beginning, its end will be very large and great. What were the disciples and the Jews expecting? They were looking for a political kingdom, with a political and militarily leader who would raise an army and overthrow Rome and establish the blessings of the kingdom. Jesus was seemingly insignificant. He was just one man preaching that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. No crown, no armies, and no visible means to vanquish Rome, this did not look like the Kingdom promised to them by the prophets.
The disciples may have been discouraged and even bewildered. They may have hoped for so much and here was so little. Not only was so very little happening that resembled the establishment of a Kingdom, Jesus was facing some very serious opposition.
The Birds and the Branches
Jesus goes on to say that the birds will come and make their homes in the branches of this mustard “tree.” In Jesus day, a very common way to depict a great empire was to picture it as a great tree with many branches.
It seems Jesus has made reference to the Old Testament passages of Daniel 4:12, Ezekiel 17:23, and 31:6. It seems that Jesus is telling the disciples that despite the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven is beginning so insignificantly it is like the smallest of seeds, it will grow to provide safety and benefit to every kind or type of people.
The reference to Daniel was well known to Jesus disciples because it referred to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a tree that grew to be so tall and strong that its top reached to haven. Under that tree the animals of the field found shade. Birds of all types and kinds came to perch and make nests in that tree. The Ezekiel passage reads, “Thus says the LORD GOD: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of it young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest.”
The kingdom may seem unimportant and even insignificant in AD 28. But hang on; the message preached by this carpenter-turned-preacher will make a major impact on the world. From this tiniest of seeds, this preacher and 11 disciples will develop into a very significant and great kingdom of God. It will be so great that people of every kind, tribe, tongue, and nation will become a part of this kingdom and bask in its benefits.