Jesus was a consummate story-teller, but unlike the stories of Gampy and Jeff, Jesus’ stories were illustrations of important lessons He was passing on to His disciples. Mt. 13:3 notes that Jesus “spoke in parables” when He was teaching. A parable is a saying, proverb, story, simile, or metaphor intended to communicate truth by comparison. Parables can be found in the OT (see Hos. 12:10), but most people are more familiar with the parables that Jesus told to describe God's kingdom. Matthew 13 is a treasure-trove of some of Jesus’ well-known parables. Each parable explains certain aspects of the Kingdom of God- how it grows, what it looks like, the way the Lord nurtures and protects the harvest, and its value. While Matthew’s version of the Parable of the Mustard Seed takes place by the Sea of Galilee (Mt. 13:31-32), a parallel passage in Luke (Lk. 13:10, 18-19) takes place in a synagogue. The fact that the setting is different in each account demonstrates that this lesson was important enough for Jesus to teach it on several occasions. In each scenario we can imagine one question being asked of the Storyteller. “What is the Kingdom of God like?”
Jesus answers this question with an unusual illustration. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. A mustard seed? That tiny little thing? The foot note in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible reads: The mustard seed is not the smallest seed known today, but it was the smallest used by farmers and gardeners in the Holy Land at that time. Under favorable conditions the mature plant could reach about ten feet in height. Using the mustard seed as a metaphor for the kingdom no doubt shocked Jesus’ audience, who expected God’s kingdom to be great and expansive right from the start. When you read this parable then, take note of the characteristics of the "mustard seed" of the kingdom. For example, it is planted by God and although it begins as something quite small, it grows to be great.
There are several facts that show just how small the beginning of the kingdom was. 1) It began with a single person, the Lord Jesus Christ. 2) Jesus had no advertising campaign, media connections, or marketing strategies. Yet people somehow heard about Him and followed Him wherever He went to hear His message. 3) Jesus entrusted His mission to 12 men who deserted Him in His hour of need. But when they finally understood all that He had taught them, they preached the Gospel wherever they went and people embraced it. Somehow, in spite its most unlikely leaders, the family of faith grew. 4) After its humble beginnings, the church managed to survive in spite of in-fighting, misappropriation of resources, persecution, and the unexpected influx of Gentile believers. And that's only the book of Acts!
But the story doesn't stop there (thank goodness!). The kingdom continued to grow until it included you and me. Because it was planted by God, it has survived and thrived in spite of all obstacles. So, let this parable encourage you this week to do as the disciples did. Share the Gospel with someone and expand the kingdom!!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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