God’s Word for You
Luke 13:18-19 The Mustard Seed
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, September 3, 2018
18 Then he said, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it with? 19 It is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air sheltered in its branches.”
In Matthew and Mark, the size of the mustard seed is compared with the size of the mature plant. “The smallest of all your seeds,” Jesus says in Matthew 13:32, and “the largest of all garden plants,” Mark 4:31. Here in Luke’s account, the size of the plant is noted (“a tree”), but no more than that. The mustard tree is not a big tree. It is usually called a bush, but they usually grow to six or seven feet tall, and some grow to twenty feet tall or larger.
We usually apply this parable to the unexpected and inexplicable work of the gospel, which works all by itself quite separate from all the artistic and flowery words of man. And this is most certainly true. But Jesus is also recalling an Old Testament parable connected with more than one prophecy about himself. In Ezekiel 17, the Lord teaches a parable to the prophet about a great eagle (King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon) that breaks off the top branch of a mighty cedar tree. That branch was King Jehoiachin, exiled in 597 BC (Ezekiel 17:1-4). Another branch was planted in fertile soil, King Zedekiah the last king of Judah. That branch would not prosper (Ezekiel 17:5-21), but God would take a shoot from the top of the top branch (Ezekiel 17:22). About that branch the Lord said: “On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the field will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it” (Ezekiel 17:23-24).
A member of King David’s family, descended from King Jehoiachin (he is the Jeconiah of Matthew 1:12), would be the Branch that truly flourished. In her Magnificat, Mary said, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52).
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession describes this as one of the parables about the church. These parables picture the gathering of the church, the work of Christ the head of the church, and the working of the gospel, the means of grace within the church. Here in the Parable of the Mustard Seed we are the birds (vs. 19) that find shelter in the shade of Jesus’ branches. At the same time, the gospel itself begins as a small seed, but grows and sprouts and blossoms and flourishes where it is planted. Where it grows we find the church. There we will see people gathered around the means of grace—the gospel in word and sacrament. The preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments are the marks of the church, and these things have the power to change hearts. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” Paul said, “because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The working of the kingdom of God is the work of the gospel in your own heart, but also the work that brought you into the fellowship of the church where your faith is nourished, connected to Christ the head of the church, and where you yourself have a task in God’s kingdom. May God bless your work in his service today.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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