The Parable of the Mustard Seed

The parable of the mustard seed one of three parables found in succession in Matthew 13, Luke 13, and in Mark 4.

  • The first is the parable of the sower is about the condition of the heart and how it is receptive of the seed.  (Matt. 13.1-9,18-23; Mark 4.1-8; 13-30; Luke 8.4-8,11-15)
  • The second is the parable of the growing seed and how the seed goes through its various stages of growth until it is finally harvested.  (Mark 4.26-29)
  • The third is the parable of the mustard seed.  (Matt. 13.31,32; Mark 4.30-32; Luke 18,19)

It is important to remember that in all of these parables that center around this idea of sowing the seed, the seed in context always represents the word of God.  

  • Luke 8.11:  “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.”
  • Mark 4.14:  “The sower sows the word.”

It is also important to remember that in all these parables that center around the seed, the soil in context always represents the heart of people.  For example, in the parable of the sower, Jesus explains that “these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit:  some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred”  (Mark 4.20).  Consider what Jesus said about the good ground.

  • A good heart hears the word of God.
  • A good heart accepts the word of God.
  • A good heart bears fruit.  

When you study the parable of the mustard seed, you are studying a parable about the word of God, its effect on the hearts and lives of individuals, and the fruit that it produces in their lives.

Good soil represents the heart of someone who is good and receptive to the teachings of the scriptures.  When the seed is sown into his heart, that is, when the word is taught to him, this individual is going to hear the word, accept what the word says, and then he will bear fruit because of the word.  

The parable of the mustard seed is all about what is produced as a result of the seed falling on good ground.  

Mark 4:30-32:  "Then He 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.'"


Breaking Down the Parable of the Mustard Seed

To begin this study of the parable of the mustard seed, let’s break down the parable to see exactly what Jesus is actually saying.  In this parable, there are three observations.


1.  The Size of the Seed

Notice how Jesus describes the mustard seed:

  • Matthew 13.31,32:  “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…”
  • Mark 4.30,31:  “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."
  • Luke 13.18,19:  “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”

Jesus describes the mustard seed as the smallest seed in all the earth. 

Actually, the mustard seed is not the smallest seed in the world.  There are others which are much smaller.  For example, the orchid seed is so small that it is compared to a dust particle.  Keep in mind that Jesus often used idiomatic expressions that were unique to the Hebrew language.  Have you ever heard of a hyperbole?  This is where you make an exaggeration to make a point.  Suppose you are driving, and someone passes you on the road.  You might say, “he must be going five million miles an hour.”  That is an example of a hyperbole.  

Jesus used these figures of speech and different Hebrew expressions all the time during His ministry.  That is what He is doing in this parable of the mustard seed.  To say something is as small as a mustard seed is an expression to emphasize the point that this mustard seed is very small.  


2.  The Stature of the Mustard Seed when it Grows

Notice the different gospel accounts and how Jesus describes what the mustard seed becomes.

  • Matthew 13.32:  “but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree.”
  • Mark 4.32:  “but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs.” 
  • Luke 13.19:  “it grew and became a large tree.”   

Do you see the contrast that Jesus is making?  Here is a seed that is smaller than all the other seeds, but it grows and becomes greater that all the herbs.  Jesus is describing something that starts out very small, and it grows into something that of a very large stature.


3.  The Shade that the Mustard Seed Provides when it is Grown

Jesus continues to describe the mustard seed as producing something.

  • Matthew 13.32:  “…so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
  • Mark 4.32:  “…and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.”
  • Luke 13.19:  “…and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”

Here is a very tiny seed.  It is planted and grows into a very large tree, and it produces branches and shade so that it becomes a blessing to the birds. 


The Meaning of the Parable of the Mustard Seed

Now let’s look at this parable and invite it into our lives by making some applications and see what we can learn.  Remember that the seed is the word of God.  The soil is the good and honest heart of an individual who hears the word, and accepts the word.  Then over a period of some time, the seed grows and produces something in his life.  Consider three lessons that we can learn from this parable.


1.  We are all Important in the Kingdom of God

The parable of the mustard seed teaches us that every member of the Lord's church is valuable. 

It is said that the mustard seed is so tiny that it is deemed insignificant.  If you are not careful, you might consider yourself insignificant in the kingdom of God in reference to the word of God working in your life.  

You might conclude that because you are not a preacher, an elder, a Bible class teacher, you are insignificant.  You might compare yourself to others and think that you are just in the background and not really important.  Think again!  Here is a small seed, but look what it becomes.  

Think about this in light of what you find in 1 Corinthians 12.  In this passage, the apostle Paul is comparing the church and the members that make up the church to a physical body.    

1 Corinthians 12:12-14:  '"For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.  For in fact the body is not one member but many."

This is a passage that tells us that we all have a place in the kingdom.  Just as the tiny and insignificant seed in the parable of the mustard seed, even those who see themselves as insignificant in the body of Christ have a valuable role to play.

1 Corinthians 12:15:  "If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,' is it therefore not of the body?"

The foot is just as important to the function of the body as the eye.  The ear is just as important to the function of the body as the hand.  In the same way, every member of the body of Christ is important.

1 Corinthians 12:17-19:  "If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?  But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.  And if they were all one member, where would the body be?"

God is the one who placed you into the body.  He has a place for you in church.  We all operate within the body in our roles working together with other parts of the body.  We use our particular abilities to help the body function.  This is true no matter who we are in the body.  Everyone is important and significant.

1 Corinthians 12.20,21:  "But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.   And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

There is nobody in the church who is insignificant.  Nobody has the right to say that such and such person is not important in the church.  Someone may be in the background or in the shadows as compared to those who operate in the public eye such as a preacher.  However, everyone’s role and the skills they bring to the body are vital in helping the body function well.  

This is one of the lessons we can learn by watching this very insignificant seed turning out to be very important as it grows into a shade tree.


2.  Growth is Necessary in the Life of a Christian

In this parable of the mustard seed, the seed grew.  Such should be the case with us individually.  

Ephesians 4.14,15:  “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ”

There may be times when you see how someone is behaving, and you are tempted to tell that person to grow up.  That is what we are being told in the above passage.  This is a passage that tells us not to be children anymore.  It is time to grow up spiritually.

2 Peter 3.18:  “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  

We have been given a challenge by God to grow by learning as much about Him as we can, and to grow by the grace of God in our lives.  

We should never be satisfied as individuals.  Just as the seed grew in the parable of the mustard seed, so we need to allow the word of God to grow in us.


3.  We Should be a Blessing to Others

This is the primary emphasis of the parable of the mustard seed.  In this parable of the mustard seed, the seed was planted, grew, and as a result, was able to provide shade and a place to rest for the birds.  

Our growth should never be just for the sake of growing.  It is just the opposite.  Our growth should be a benefit to others.  Growth is not the point of the story.  It is about the seed growing into a tree, and when it did, it produced something.  The branches grew outward and it provided a home for the birds.  

It isn’t about us being able to brag about much must we know and how much we have matured.  It is about us being productive so that we can now help others and be a blessing to them.  

The same principle is taught in reference to faith.  

James 2:18-20:  “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?”

If doesn’t matter what you have.  If you are not using what you have, where is the benefit?  If you say you have faith, but you are not acting out of faith, then where is the benefit?  Faith is useless unless it produces action.  

In the same way, the word of God needs to be working in your life so that you grow and mature.  When you grow, you become a blessing to others.  

And so we have the parable of the mustard seed.  


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