Jesus used parables to help his disciples understand the Kingdom of God. He often used agricultural imagery to bring clarity to complex spiritual concepts. For example, he used the parable of the mustard seed to reveal God’s ways of growth, His abundant provision, and His miraculous multiplying in the Kingdom.
30 Again, he said, “What shall we say the Kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32 NIV)
What is the Parable of the Mustard Seed Meaning?
Jesus points to the tiny mustard seed and its ability to defy expectations. The familiar mustard plant would have been growing everywhere in the area. Jesus explained how “the smallest of all seeds” grows into “the largest of all garden plants once planted.” This plant would produce big branches providing shelter and much-needed shade for all. His words paint a portrait of the Kingdom of God in action.
In November 1981, I inherited a babysitting job from my older sister. After a few nights of caring for this family’s children, the husband and wife, youth group leaders, invited me to attend the Billy Graham Crusade. As a non-church goer, I had little interest. However, the promise of meeting the young men from the youth group made me curious. It was an eight-night crusade, so I babysat a few more evenings that week. Each evening before driving me home, they politely extended the crusade invitation. Finally, after saying no all week, I agreed to attend the following night.
Since there were going to be cute boys attending, I decided to invite my two best friends to go with me. During the evening, God used the words of a gifted evangelist to draw me to Himself. I sat there feeling compelled to go down on the field as the choir sang the famous hymn, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” My friends, both of whom were Christians, walked down to the field below with me. A series of small decisions guided me right into a life transformational choice.
Under the stadium lights that evening, I prayed to accept Jesus as my savior with one of the many crusade volunteers. The team did a fantastic job of following up. I was quickly connected to a local church and joined the youth group. My faith has steadily flourished for over forty years as I have grown as a follower of Christ.
Small things can lead to significant changes.
Moral Lessons from the Parable of the Mustard Seed
The Kingdom of God will break out in unexpected ways, in unforeseen places, and far exceed our predictions.
God specializes in defying our preconceived notions. Over and over, we read accounts in the Bible of God growing those He called into heroic acts of faith. But first, each one must obey in small ways to begin a growing with God journey.
God’s provision is far greater than we could ask for or imagine. He provides the needed shelter in a broken world and salvation for eternity. The Kingdom of God has room for everyone to come into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
God does kingdom mathematics before our eyes if only we would look. Every time there is only a little oil in the lamp, a little lunch (five loaves and two fishes), and the smallest amount of faith in an average person, God multiplies what appears to be so small into abundance for His Kingdom purposes.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed is a Parable of God’s Growth Model
God’s growth model features something small and seemingly insignificant becoming central and vital. Jesus showed the disciples how one of the smallest seeds could grow into a tree towering up to twelve feet in the air.
The people were not prepared for an insignificant beginning for God’s Kingdom. The disciples longed for a flash-bang method and a fast-track plan to overthrow the Roman occupation. They are wary of ruthless oppression and desperate for rescue.
Jesus gently but firmly tried to guide the disciples into a new way of looking at their relationship with God. The Kingdom of God was popping up all around them, but they didn’t recognize the growth and the progress. It was not what they were looking for.
Do I miss what God’s doing because I don’t know what to look for?
The Parable of the Mustard Seed is a Parable of God’s Provision for All of His People
Jesus explained how the mustard seed would grow into a tree that provides shelter and shade for the birds of the air. These birds represent people from every nation of the world coming into the Messianic Kingdom. (Psalm 104:12) Jesus was opening the way for all to come into God’s Kingdom. It was no longer limited to one people group, the Jews.
A mustard plant or tree would have been a highly valued asset for food and medicine. In addition, the seeds of a mustard tree produce mustard, a much-loved spice. Mustard is second in popularity only to pepper, even to this day. Mustard plants can also be harvested for mustard greens and topically to reduce inflammation.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed Demonstrates God’s Miracle of Multiplying
A mustard seed grows into a mustard plant with more mustard seeds ready to become more mustard plants. This process can happen in as little as sixty days. This prolific plant illustrates the Kingdom of God’s ability to multiply in discipleship.
We disciple a small group of people who go on to disciple others who disciple others. Perhaps, someday when we get to Heaven, God will allow us to glimpse this excellent process and the ripple effect from His perspective.
What Can I Take Away from the Parable of the Mustard Seed?
What small steps might God call me to take with Him this season? What small act of obedience do I need to follow through on?
In what areas of my spiritual life do I need to grow?
Am I actively participating in a local church community?
Am I serving in a ministry or my community?
Am I reading my Bible daily?
What provision has God made for me recently? Have I taken the time to thank Him? Have I cultivated an attitude of gratefulness by making a list of things and people I am grateful for this week or this month?
Who is God calling me to disciple in this season?
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Meet the Author:
For over thirty years, Anthea Kotlan has served as a women’s ministry leader in the church and her community. She has a passion for discipleship and encouraging women to walk confidently in their God-given calling. She designs women’s retreats, teaches Bible studies, writes, and enjoys speaking at events. Anthea encourages women to tend their souls with weekly devotionals inspired by the psalms. Find more from Anthea.