God’s Word for You
Mark 4:30-34 Mustard Seed, Mustard Branches
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, May 7, 2022
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?
Jesus gives his own definition of a parable here. A parable shows what the kingdom of God is like. It is a comparison. He makes a point using an everyday act or object by showing the way that the object or act is like the kingdom of God.
The very basics of a kingdom, from the king’s point of view, are these: How does he care for his people, how does he protect his people, and how does he enlarge the number of people that he has? An earthly king might also think about the dimensions of his property and whether there is enough room for his people, and whether or not his army is big enough or strong enough, but God’s heaven is infinite, and his angels are powerful, so these things have no comparison in the parables. Usually the Lord’s descriptions of the “estate” or the “vineyard” of the kingdom are not references to heaven, but to earth where the growing of the kingdom takes place.
31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
We can take the mustard seed, a very small seed, to be either the word of God, or to be Christ. Whether Christ (the content of the gospel) or the gospel (whose point is Christ), we see that the planting is very small. Christ is despised by the world, as is his word (Isaiah 53:3, 49:7). If Christ is left on the shelf, nothing happens. Christ and his teaching stands there collecting dust beside Aristotle and the I Ching. But when Christ is preached, when he is planted, then a miracle takes place. This is the mystery of the gospel, and neither the great and revered teachings of west (such as Aristotle) or the east (such as the I Ching) can duplicate it.
Christ is nothing to the world. Born in humble circumstances to a humble family; he died in far worse circumstances. He died as a criminal, at the hands of the ruthless, not even trying to defend himself. What could possibly come of this? But he rose from the dead, and the resurrection is something so spectacular that it defies comparison. The risen Christ and our faith in Christ is the tree, with branches to give shade and a perch to all who will come and settle there. When I think of a little garden, I think of my mother’s garden when I was a boy. Do my sons think of their mother’s much smaller garden? Yet growing next to both were trees, trees with shade and broad branches; perhaps not mustard bushes, but far bigger. And the shade and branches of the kingdom of Christ, of our faith and his visible and invisible church, provide benefits for the whole world.
In the kingdom of God, the very small, the despised, the inconsequential, grows to be the resting place for all. Think of what this seed does in the human heart! It changes us; makes us into something we were not; something we could never have become without it. Our new life in Christ is our ability to serve God, to please God, with our words and even with our thoughts. My faith affects the way I think of my children, the way I think of my neighbors, and even the choices I make in how I will spend my waking hours. We are not very far removed from our pagan ancestors, not at all removed as far as the Old Adam penetrates, and yet we are infinitely distant from them on account of our faith in Christ. This is the difference his word makes: We believe in the forgiveness of sins, in the resurrection of the body, and in eternal life.
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. (NIV)
Many of the “similar parables” are given in the other gospels. See Luke 15, for example, and the parables of the Lost Coin, Lost Sheep, and Lost Son. The advantage of teaching with a parable is first of all negative: Some of the truths are withheld from unbelievers who might overhear and who have no faith and therefore would only despise and mock the truth (“Do not give to dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” Matthew 7:6). The parables are not tools of creating faith but of strengthening faith by explaining the working of God in the world. But another advantage to using parables is positive: For the believer, the substance of many of the parables is to be found in everyday life, and so the reminder of the truth is there all around, in the field, in the kitchen, in the garden, and everywhere. “Christians may look at nature and be reminded of the seed of God’s word that brings and keeps them in the kingdom of God, which brings and keeps the kingdom of God in them. Or think of the sacrament of baptism and the sacrament of the altar. Jesus employs simple natural elements to satisfy deep spiritual needs. Again, as we daily wash outwardly, we are reminded of the true washing in the sacrament of baptism. As we daily satisfy earthly hunger, our souls are drawn to the contemplation of the sacred food offered in the sacrament of the altar and its much greater benefit” (Deutschlander, Grace Abounds p. 130-131).
“The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand” (Psalm 121:5). He will keep you from all harm. And although the devil will stab and attack and kill you, your Lord Jesus Christ will heal all those wounds, and bring you up even out of the grave to everlasting life, to perch and and be protected by his shade for all eternity.
Pastor Timothy Smith