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

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