Parable of the Mustard Seed: Mark 4:30-32

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” 

Horsham, 24th April 2024

Christ is again using a parable to tell us something of what the Kingdom of God is like. There’s no question that a mustard seed is pretty small, although it’s by no means the smallest seed in the world. However the phrase ‘mustard seed’ was used amongst Jewish people of the first century to refer to something really, really tiny (i). The mustard seed was a recognisable symbol, not just because everyone knew that the seed was small, but they also knew that the mustard seed has the potential to grow into a large bush (or a small tree).

There is something here to remind us of the small and insignificant. We see the ‘small and insignificant’ everywhere in Scripture, even in the life of Christ. From the vulnerability of a new born baby, to the man on the cross between two thieves. I have always sensed the vulnerability of the disciples after Christ’s death, and at the moment of his ascension (Acts 1).

Yet there is something in this image of exponential growth from small beginnings into a bush which provides nourishment and safe haven for those who find shelter there.  It reminds me of the exponential growth which we see in the early Church as God builds that part of his Kingdom on earth. There is a lesson here that in the things of God we are to celebrate and nurture the small beginnings. They are a sign of potentially good things to come. (Zechariah 4:10)

‘it would be difficult to find an emblem which more faithfully represents the history of the visible church of Christ than this mustard seed.’ (ii)

It is an image rich in Old Testament symbolism. God’s kingdom is described by Ezekiel and Daniel as a growing tree within whose shade the nations will find refuge.

We bring these images together and see a growing Kingdom where all are welcome, regardless of the artificial boundaries which are so often imposed by human hearts.

‘The Church is the family of God; and that Church which began in Palestine, small as a mustard seed, has room in it for every nation in the world. There are no barriers in the Church of God. The barriers are of our own making, and God in Christ has torn them down.’ (iii)

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

(i) Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel, p 86
(ii) ibid
(iii) Wm Barclay, New Daily Study Bible; The Gospel of Mark, Kindle edition, Loc 2440

The Growing Seed: Mark 4:26-29

The Parable of the Growing Seed

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4: 26-29 (NIV)

Horsham: 23rd April 2024

This short parable is unusual in that it is unique to Mark’s Gospel.  We can easily pass over the opening phrase that ‘this is what the kingdom of God is like.’ (v26).  It is a parable which describes something about the establishment of God’s kingdom. It is typical of Jesus’ teaching to draw an illustration drawn from nature. As ever the image is both accessible and timeless.

I spent some time this afternoon sowing seeds. Tomatoes, beans, peas and sweetcorn. The sweetcorn seeds were small dried kernels of corn. They look completely lifeless. Having planted the seeds, I can look after them – watering them and keeping them warm, but in reality there is nothing I can do to make them grow. It is a wonder of nature that the tiny shriveled kernels of corn will grow into plants.

If all goes well, in the spring the seeds will produce a stalk, and later in the summer, those stalks will produce cobs of corn. By early autumn, I will come along and harvest the sweetcorn.

So the image is simple and straightforward, but what is the parallel with the kingdom of God which Jesus wanted the people to see here?

We’ve noticed before that the ministry of Jesus was not what people would have expected of the Messiah. Rather than confronting the Roman army of occupation and re-establishing Jewish rule, Jesus was quietly talking to people, standing up to the Jewish institutions, mixing with the needy and healing the sick. I wonder whether you can see that there is a sense in which as he deals with the community, his family, his followers and his disciples, Jesus is sowing seeds in human hearts. These are seeds which will, over time, grow and flourish as people become ready to follow and serve him, passing on the seeds of his light, love and grace to others.  No-one would ‘see’ the seeds germinate, but they would, in time, be left in no doubt that growth had taken pace.

‘People wouldn’t be able to see how God’s promised plant would grow from this seed, but grow it would and the harvest would come.’(i)

We discover in Acts 2 that God is able to create rapid dynamic growth in His Church, but that is not always the case and certainly does not reflect the ongoing experience of the early Church. In reality, his kingdom grows slowly, sometimes imperceptibly. The seeds of His kingdom are sown into human hearts and it is by His grace and in His timing that the seed will grow.

As followers of Jesus we are also privileged to scatter seeds. We do this by our teaching but more importantly by sharing and demonstrating His love. We may sometimes be disappointed not to see the fruit or even the germination of those seeds. But just now and then, we may see growth in others (often from seeds which we ourselves did not sow) which will reassure us that seeds do actually grow, and God is indeed building his kingdom here on earth, as it is in heaven.

(i) NT Wright, Mark for Everyone, p.46

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

Look for the special moments

Life is not always straightforward. It can get us down. I always tell people to keep their eyes open. Look for the moments which lift your spirits. Look for the moments which make you smile.

Yesterday I had a really busy day. I was tired and needed a few minutes of downtime. I went into one of my local coffee shops in West Street and ordered my usual flat white.

What happened next lifted my spirits. My coffee was passed across the counter. It made me smile.



Consider Carefully What You Hear: Mark 4:24-25



24 “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

Horsham: 17th March 2024

The context of these verses is straightforward. Jesus has just told his disciples, not for the first time, to listen and respond.

23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”  (Mark 4:23)

In context, ‘consider carefully what you hear,’ (v24) means ‘pay careful attention to what I am saying.’ Jesus is telling his disciples, including you and me, to listen carefully to his voice and reflect on what we have heard. We hear his voice in Scripture. Read his words slowly and carefully. Pay careful attention. Read. Listen Reflect.

I recently heard a young man talking about his experience as a zoo keeper. During his first week, he joined the team with responsibility for looking after the gorillas. His greatest challenge came when he was introduced to the gorillas. The first response of these powerful animals was to want nothing to do with him. They largely ignored him but occasionally, and unpredictably, displayed aggression. He described their behaviour as being rather like that of a petulant toddler, but of course some of these toddlers weigh 400 – 500 pounds, and are blessed with 10 times the strength of the average fit and healthy human.

After many months of persistence, including some difficult encounters, the young zoo keeper realised that he was slowly developing a close and rewarding relationship with the animals. He learned, he said, an important life lesson. The more effort which he put in his relationship with his new animal friends, the more he gained.

It seems to me that the same principle applies to our relationship with God. The more you put in, the deeper your relationship will become.

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

The Lamp on the Stand Mark 4:21-23



21 He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Mark 4:21-23 (NIV)

Horsham: 14th April 2023

2000 years ago, the world was a much darker place. No streetlamps. No electric lights. No light pollution. When the sun sank below the horizon, the only light came from the moon and the stars. On a cloudy evening, the darkness was intense. Those of us who have lived most of our lives in cities rarely experience that kind of darkness.

Inside a house or building there might be some flickering light from a fire, but the only other light would come from an oil lamp.  The ‘lamp’ in question would have been a rather smoky oil lamp – basically a small clay dish and  wick. These small lamps provided only a very dim light – barely enough to find your way around a room, but 2000 years ago, they were invaluable. They were a light in dark world.

The image is timeless.  A lamp is intended to give light. Even in our world of electric lights, we recognise the absurdity of covering a light with a large bucket or putting it under the bed. Some people never got past that simple image.

How are we to understand this parable?

12 When Jesus spoke to them again, he said, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”                                   John 8:12 (NIV)

Jesus is the light of the world. A light of such brilliance and power that it reaches into every crevice and corner, overpowering all shadow and darkness.

The light of Jesus is not to be hidden from the world. As Christians, we carry something of His light within us (2 Corinthians 4:6) and we are sent into the world with a purpose. Keeping the light of Christ to ourselves would be like hiding it under a bushel. Our very purpose is to carry the light of Christ into a darkened world.

14 “You are the light of the world.”        Matthew 5:14 (NIV)

So I’ve been reflecting on this simple, familiar parable.

It seems to me that even the smallest of lights will be amplified when it comes together with others. As we gather in our Churches, it can be like a whole bunch of clay lamps shining together. We hope and pray that together we will reflect the light of Christ into our communities, overcoming the darkness. We love those moments of encouragement – being together, worshipping together, basking in the light of Christ together. But that is only part of the story.

We live in a world which is spiritually every bit as dark as Palestine 2000 years ago. Maybe darker. This verse is a call to mission in a world in need.

He is the light of the world. Each of us carries a flickering part of his light within us as we move in His world. This light – His light – is not given to be hidden away. It needs to be brought out into the open and set on a stand where everyone can see it. That’s a challenge for all of us.

Wouldn’t it be disappointing if we shied away from the challenge. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if we were coming together as His people, and then inadvertently keeping the light of Christ’s saving grace hidden beneath the roofs of our Churches.

Now, think on.

If anyone has ears to hear,” says Jesus, “let them hear.”

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK