The Parable of the Mustard Seed
(Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18,19)
" Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches." (NKJV)
Matthew 13:33: "The Parable of the Leaven"
"Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened".
The "purpose" of Matthew 13:31-32 is to illustrate the "work" of the gospel and how in the beginning the "effect" of the "gospel message" (the good news of Jesus Christ as Messiah) would be small at first, but over the course of time in "latter" stages of history both in centuries past, present and future that the gospel message, individuals who accepted Jesus Christ as Savior would increase in numbers and greatly mature in the faith the more Christ is embraced in their lives.
Matthew Henry's Commentary sees it this way:The scope of this parable is to show, that the beginnings of the gospel would be small, but that its latter end would greatly increase. In this way the gospel church, the kingdom of God among us, would be set up in the world; in this way the work of grace in the heart, the kingdom of God within us, would be carried on in particular persons.
We can safely conclude this parable illustrates the progression the Gospel and the growth of the kingdom of Heaven in the world and the growth of the grace (love) of God in the soul of a saved person. God's grace leads the soul to the fullness of glory may begin, and often does, in a person's single good desire-(a wish) to escape hell, or a desire to enjoy God in heaven. In this parable, Jesus reveals to us how the gospel influences the growth of both the church, and Jews of "Millennial Israel" who will embrace Christ during His triumphant second coming and how God's grace, (unmerited favor) the work of grace in and on a person's heart, the kingdom of God within us, would be carried on and in the "saved."
I. Observation: The "Work" of the Gospel,
The mustard-seed, is one of the smallest of all seeds. To furnish an adequate basis for the proverb, it is necessary to suppose that a variety of it was cultivated in the time of our Savior, which grew to an enormous size, and shot forth large branches, so that the fowls of the air could lodge in the branches of it. It may have been perennial, and have grown to a considerable tree; and there are traditions in the country of such so large that a man could climb into them.
In comparing the size of the mustard seed to the infancy stage of the "kingdom" of the Messiah, which Jesus was now setting up, Compared to Judaism, and other religious factions in the world, at the beginning, Christianity was small in stature and influence (number of people) but not in "status;" It started out with Jesus Christ and the 12 disciples he hand picked to carry the gospel message. Being new. it appeared like a grain of mustard-seed, the smallest things of the world. In particular places, the first breaking out of the "gospel light" is just as the dawning of the day when the sun begins to rise from the eastern horizon as a bright glowing orange sphere. In the heart and soul of a man it is a new horizon of life. The lost soul is now found; the scales of sin's blindness have been removed; it is at first the day of small things, like a bruised reed.
One of the contributing writers on the Barnes Note Commentary made this observation:"Young converts often suppose they have much religion. It is not so. They are, indeed, in a new world. Their hearts glow with new affections. They have an elevation, an ecstasy of emotion, which they may not have afterward like a blind man suddenly restored to sight. The sensation is new and especially vivid, yet little is seen distinctly. His impressions are indeed more vivid and cheering than those of him who has long seen and to whom objects are familiar. In a little time, too, the young convert will see more distinctly, will judge more intelligently, will love more strongly, though not with so much "new emotion," and will be prepared to make more sacrifices for the cause of Christ".
II. The Growth Produced by the Gospel
In Matthew 28:19-20, the remaining 11 disciples were commissioned by Jesus (after he rose from the dead and just before he ascended into heaven) to go and spread the gospel message, teaching everyone they came in contact with those things Jesus both commanded and taught about himself and the plan God had for all who would believe in Jesus as Messiah. They were to tarry in Jerusalem and wait to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. These "mustard seeds had grown to about 120 by the time they tarried in the upper room. On the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) the Holy Spirit came upon them in the upper room and empowered them to preach the Word of God with boldness. After Peter preached that day, (Acts 2:14-41) about 3.000 souls were saved that day, receiving the Gospel message gladly.
III. Concerning the "Birds of the Air:" "Nesting" in it's Branches
In this parable, as they are frequently throughout scripture, (except for the eagle, the sparrow, and the dove) the birds are agents of evil (Matt 13:4,19), From a historical perspective, from the smallest beginning, the church made astounding growth through the proclamation of Christ's message. Yet such unusual growth has provided roosting places for those who are enemies of God, who seek the shade and fruit of the tree for their own interests (even nations like to be called "Christian"). From the beginning, there has been fierce opposition against the church from the Pharisees and Sadducces that sought to maintain a religious stronghold over the people and political and economic clout within the Roman Empire.. We have a saying : New levels...new devils. As the church grew, the opposition from these groups and from a faction within Judaism called Judaizers. These 'birds" as Dr. Clarence Larkin pointed out sought with a rigor to destroy the church within with false teachings and and without by warring physically with the Members of the "Way". Thus you can say that these "birds of the Air" represent every false teacher and doctrine that tries to smother the true doctrinal teachings of the Bible and stymie the growth of the church with real dedicated converts in Jesus Christ. the Bible is full of examples of evil birds; Simon Maguses, Hymenaeus, Diotrophes, Modern day Tobiases and Sanballats, Annanias and Sapphira, Philetus and many other agents of Satan.
The "flood gates" swung open for heresy in 324 A.D. when Constantine in a strong move to unify the Roman Empire issued an edict that literally combine the church and state. paganism worshiped along side Christianity in the same buildings of worship called "Bascillicas." Thousands upon tens of thousands began to crowd the churches, unconverted. they attended as a matter of policy, interest and to be fashionable. Because the doctrine of the then church began to be compromised due to the infusion of pagan rituals and practices,the birds of the air continue to this day to "rest" and nestle in the branches of the "Mustard Tree." (church).
Now in contrast Matthew Henry gives us this perspective of Matthew 13:24-43:The church is like a great tree, in which the fowls of the air do lodge; God's people have recourse to it for food and rest, shade and shelter. In particular persons, the principle of grace, if true, will persevere and be perfected at last: growing grace will be strong grace, and will bring much to pass. Grown Christians must covet to be useful to others, as the mustard-seed when grown is to the birds; that those who dwell near or under their shadow may be the better for them, Hosea 14:7.
Dr. William Edward Boddie