The Kingdom of Heaven is Like a Mustard Seed—A Sermon

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Matthew 13:31-33, 44-53 NRSV

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” 53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.

Matthew 13 is a chapter of parables about the kingdom of heaven in which Jesus pictures the kingdom of heaven using several stories (parables). In it we read of seven parables in a row; the parables of the sower, the weeds, the mustard seed, the yeast, the treasure, the pearls and the net. A parable is a general term for a figurative saying, it is a form of simile. Parables are stories meant to illustrate a point. There is a strong emphasis on the Kingdom of Heaven in all these seven parables in Matthew 13.

“We need to note here that the kingdom of heaven is not an empire with boarders and flags as earthly kingdoms are. The church as an institution is neither the kingdom of God.”

At the present, the kingdom of heaven is God’s reign in human hearts, this should culminate into God’s eternal reign at the restoration of all things.

Jesus’ parables were no ordinary stories. Don Fleming states that “Jesus’ parables were more than mere illustrations. They were stories designed to make people think, and often the hearers had to work out the meaning for themselves.”[2] The parable of the Mustard seed is one whose meaning we must figure out. Unlike the previous parables of the sower and the weed which were our Gospel texts for the last two Sundays whose interpretations Jesus gave to his disciples, the following five parables of: the mustard seed, the yeast, the treasure, the pearls and the net were not interpreted.

Jesus perhaps thought these parables were straightforward illustrations for his disciples to understand. After narrating the parables, the Lord asked the disciples; “Have you understood all this?” and they responded “Yes.” We hope they did understand. However, these parables whose interpretations weren’t given have now got several interpretations.

“The central thought of the parable [of the Mustard seed] is the growth of the kingdom of heaven [and or our faith]… Although it has small beginnings, it is to have a marvellous expansion, so that even those who naturally are outside it are glad to avail themselves of its protection” (The Pulpit Commentary).

I believe in parable of the mustard seed[3]

  • The sower is Jesus Himself. He is the planter who came to atone for our sins so that we might become fruitful.
  • The mustard seed was the smallest seed known at the time. While it becomes more of a shrub than a tree, it can reach about 10 feet high. The mustard seed represents the Gospel [and or the kingdom itself], starting very small but growing to reach millions throughout the world who will inherit the kingdom. [In another context, the mustard seed could be likened to our Christian faith].
  • The field represents all the people of the earth who will receive Him.
  • The tree is rooted in Jesus Christ and has grown a harvest far beyond its initial planting. The King James Version says, “it is the greatest among all herbs,” growing far reaching branches beyond natural explanation.
  • The birds of the air in this parable probably come from the Greek word “orneon,” signifying” to perceive, to hear.” Thus, all the nations of the earth will come to hear the Gospel and the tree offers a refuge for His faithful to rest in Him.

God, through his Son Jesus Christ has already planted the mustard seed in the world and in our individual hearts. For several years, the mustard seed has been growing from a dozen of men (the apostles) to several hundreds of followers in the region of Palestine. The mustard seed has since then grown from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and has now spread to the utmost ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The mix of our congregation here at St. Edmund’s in Oslo—people of all races and colour, culture and language from all corners of the world attests to how wide the mustard tree has grown.

We however, have our responsibility to accommodate the mustard seed in our hearts and lives to allow the mustard seed to have impact in our lives. I believe one of the reasons we always come here to worship God and fellowship with each other is to nurture the mustard seed or tree to grow or to be established in us. That the presence of the mustard seed in us will not only be of benefit to us alone, but it will enable us to be the lips of Jesus Christ—to proclaim the kingdom of God to others, and to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ to be able to reach out to the world.

Two things about the mustard seed before I finish; For long, science has failed to hybridize the mustard seed (note: There is a hybrid of the mustard tree now). The mustard seed cannot easily be anything other a mustard seed. Until the recent times, the mustard seed has refused all viruses in scientific attempts of hybridization. Secondly, “The mustard seed is afraid of nothing! It grows where other plants would be choked out, withered for lack of nutrients, eaten by bugs, infested by disease” (Julie). But the mustard seed thrives! Likewise, our faith must not be easily infested by evil and it should be able to thrive even in difficult conditions.

“Our faith must not be easily infested by evil and it should be able to thrive even in difficult conditions.”

In his epistle to the Romans—particularly in the text which was read (Romans 8:26-39), the apostle Paul encouraged the Christians in Rome to be sure that despite their harsh experiences from either natural occurrences or intended actions by fellow mankind, they are in the loving hands of God. And, that none of these harsh conditions can delete God’s love upon them. The apostle asks; “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35).

He confidently responds to these questions saying: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

May the mustard seed the Lord Jesus has sown in our hearts grow daily and be established. May his kingdom be established in all nations to the Glory of God. Amen! Rev. J

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[1] By Rev. Julius Izza Tabi

[2] Fleming, Don. Entry for ‘Parables’. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/p/parables.html. 2004

[3] The meaning of the elements in the parable has been taken from here http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/parable-of-the-mustard-seed-faq.htm

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture Quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV) 2011.

Rev. Julius Izza Tabi is the founding Director of this online New Dawn Ministries. He holds a Master of Philosophy in Religion, Society and Global Issues from the Norwegian School of Theology. Julius also is a pastor in the Anglican Diocese of Ma’di and West Nile of the Church of Uganda who believes that God’s timeless truth of salvation must be preached to all Nations. Help Donate here to support the New Dawn Ministries. You can also support this ministry by purchasing Julius’ popular books Triumphing Over Odds and Suffering and Pain? from Amazon. Thank you.

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