Scripture: 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. 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.” Matthew 13:31-32 ESV
[Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: Following the parallel passages from Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18, Matthew arranges the Parable of the Mustard seed in sequence with The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Weeds. Here, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven’s growth to that of the smallest known seed in ancient Palestine. This tiny mustard seed that grows into a small tree larger than all the garden plants illustrates the anticipated remarkable growth of his kingdom of heaven. It will expand beyond expectations for most onlookers, quietly taking its form among the seemingly insignificant lives of Christ’s disciples.
And it will be surprisingly robust, for its symbolic branches will provide security and rest for its members. Indeed, the image of a tree whose branches can support nesting birds recalls several Old Testament references to rising and passing mighty kingdoms (Ezekiel 17:22-24; 31:2-18; Daniel 4:9-27). And like the kingdom of heaven, these foreign kingdoms served God’s purpose of judgment against his unrepentant people, but unlike Jesus’ kingdom, they faded into nonexistence.
Takeaway: Theologian D. A. Carson contends that Jesus’ employment of a mustard seed goes beyond illustrating its rapid and mysterious growth. The parable points us to “the organic unity of small beginning and mature end” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, p. 318). Undoubtedly, it is a microcosm of the entire breadth of Scripture: one element of a seamless meta-narrative of congruous covenants that build on one another and lead us to a glorious climax when Christ returns and makes all things new. And just as with its inauguration in Jesus’ first coming, its consummation at his second will come like a thief at night and surprise many (24:43, click to read the entire chapter, which focuses on the end times).
So what’s our takeaway? First, the kingdom of heaven’s insignificant start to its anticipated extraordinary climax points to our spiritual journeys. For most of us, no sirens or flashing lights set off (outside of heaven rejoicing) when we received Christ. And some of us even encountered opposition from family and friends. But, as Paul contends, the Holy Spirit is transforming us from glory to glory: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV). Indeed, through the convergence of the Word and the Holy Spirit, Christ’s seed is planted “in us” and, over time, mysteriously transforms our lives into his image-bearers.
Secondly, as the Holy Spirit transforms our lives into the likeness of the Son, our growth will attract others to Christ. As such, the Holy Spirit will help them find rest and security in their Christ-centered relationship with us. The Holy Spirit will use our “branches” (our words and deeds of grace) to provide them with a safe place to land and nest (to find a spiritual home within the body of Christ).
In sum, it begins and ends with Christ. And being grafted into Christ, we share in his glorious, mysterious kingdom growth that starts small but is unstoppable, spreading shalom security and rest in and through us to those around us.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who inaugurated his heavenly kingdom in his first coming and will consummate it when he returns. And we thank you that even in the face of opposition, we can find shalom security and rest in him. So would you please help us submit to your Holy Spirit’s lead in paying it forward to share your Son’s kingdom blessings with others and thus help grow his kingdom? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
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