Lesson 157-June 3, 2018
Lesson: “The Parable of the Mustard Seed”
Lesson Goal: To learn and gain a better understanding of Jesus’ teaching concerning “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.”
Introduction: One thing that we will clearly notice as we read and study “The Parable of the Mustard Seed” is that Jesus offered no explanation of it. Unlike “The Parable of the Sower (Soils)” and “The Parable of the Wheat and Tares” Jesus does not give us the explanation, Jesus simply offers the parable.
G. Campbell Morgan shares insight and wisdom through his words; “When approaching such a parable, there are two parts to be avoided, in interpretation. One is that of popularity and the other is that of misinterpreta- tion of history, in an attempt to understand the parable. We have no right to come to this, or any parable influ- enced by the general consensus. Here I would lay down a principle for all Bible study. Whatever the popular interpretation may be, it is not therefore necessarily the correct one. It may be correct, but popularity is not any guarantee of accuracy. Then there is a danger of considering history from the standpoint of observation and interpreting these parables of Jesus by the facts of history as we know them. That too may be a perilous procedure against which we need to guard.”
I would offer one more thought concerning the study of the parables or any topic of Bible study and inquiry. We must be careful that we do not make our own preconceived ideas and notions the foundational basis of our Biblical interpretation. Often times instead of letting the Word speak to our ideas and notions we view Scrip- ture through the lens of our own preconceived ideas and notions. Let the Word speak to our ideas and notions and not the reverse where we try to make the Word fit into our own interpretational box. Also, we must guard against making our life experiences the basis of our interpretation.
Today we find ourselves looking at another of Jesus’ parables. It is commonly referred to as “The “Parable of the Mustard Seed.” This parable is recorded by Mark and Matthew.
In this particular parable, Jesus continues to teach from the world of agriculture. He continues to teach con- cerning the sowing of seed but in this parable it specifically identifies the seed as “mustard seed.” But please note that in Mark and Matthew the reference is to the mustard seed. Jesus is calling attention to the relative size of the mustard seed. The literal mustard seed that Jesus ‘ listeners were familiar was an extremely small seed. While a mustard seed is not the smallest seed in the world, it was probably the smallest seed that the Jews sowed. It was a traditional symbol of that which is tiny.
J. C. Ryle states “ a grain of mustard seed was a proverbial expression among the Jews for something very small and insignificant. The idea was doubtless familiar to a Jewish mind, however strange it may sound to us. Here, as in other places, the Son of God shows us the wisdom of using language familiar to the minds of the people we are speaking to.”
The mustard seed of Jesus’ parable and these His listeners were familiar, appeared to be small and insignifi- cant. However it could grow to be “10 to 12 feed in height.” (Vos) Although only an herb, it could reach great heights compared to its relative small humble size at planting (it takes approximately 11,500 mustard seeds to equal an ounce).
The point of Jesus’ parable is to help us understand the seemingly small and insignificant beginnings of the “Kingdom of heaven.” The Kingdom although so small at its beginning would not remain small. It would ul- timately make an unusual and unexpected impact upon the world.
Please take a moment and write some biblical (Scriptural based) truths that shows the point of the Kingdom’s small, humble insignificant seed during the days of the New Testament (Hint-start with the birth of Jesus).
The main point of Jesus’ parable is clear. The small seed would grow and make an impact for reaching into the world.
What began on the banks of the Jordan with the announcement by John the Baptist (see Matthew 3:13-17, John 1:29-34) would continue to grow from the 12 to the first few disciples (see 1Corinthians 15:6) to the 3000 at Pentecost and the steady increase throughout the book of Acts.
“It would be difficult to find a picture which more faithfully represents the history of the visible church of Christ than this grain of mustard seed. Weakness and apparent insignificance were undoubtedly the character- istics of its beginning. How did its head and King come into the world? He came as a feeble infant, born in a manger of Bethlehem, without riches, armies, attendants or power. Who were the men that the head of the church gathered round himself and appointed his apostles? They were poor and unlearned persons: fishermen, tax collectors, and men of similar occupations, to all appearance the most unlikely people to shake the world. To the human eyes the beginning of the visible church was contemptible, insignificant, powerless and small.”
To show and understand the size plant/herb that a mustard seed can become John Lightfoot quotes from the following passage from “Rabbi Simeon ben Chalaphta, “A stalk of mustard seed was in my field, into which I was wont to climb as men are wont to climb a fig tree.”
From your journey of life have you ever observed the work of God in the seemingly small and insignificant? (Please read Zechariah 4:50). With one small seed God can do a mighty work.
Question: What is meant by “the day of small things?”
“So that the birds of the air come and nest in it.” To look, research, and study these last words of Jesus’ para- ble of the mustard seed brings us to a difficult point of interpretation. (It is at this point that I personally wished that they (Jesus’ disciples) would have once again ask for Jesus’ explanation). But without explana- tion, Jesus said “so that the birds of the air come and nest in it.”
There are two primary interpretations offered to the meaning of this portion of the parable:
1. As the Kingdom grows Satan will continue to work represented by the “birds of the air.” The birds are interpreted as that which is evil. So the birds which were spoken of in the Parable of the Sower (Soils) is
seen as the same enemy that now takes up abode or nest in the mustard plant.
2. The first point of the parable was from a small seemingly insignificant beginning the Kingdom would grow. The other, concerning the birds which were attracted to the branches and built their nests there. The wording literally means “lodge, make tents, take shelter.” The interpretation being that what started so small in the most humble manner would grow to give shelter to all people of all tribes of all nations.
I close todays lesson with the words of the country preacher Vance Havner:
“As long as the church wore scars, they made headway. When they began to wear medals, the cause languished. It was a greater day for the church when Christians were fed to the lions than when they bought season tickets and sat in the grandstand.”