The parable of the mustard seed one of three parables found in succession in Matthew 13, Luke 13, and in Mark 4.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Notice how Jesus describes the mustard seed:
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.
Notice the different gospel accounts and how Jesus describes what the mustard seed becomes.
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.
Jesus continues to describe the mustard seed as producing something.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In this parable of the mustard seed, the seed grew. Such should be the case with us individually.
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.
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.
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.
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.