On your Mark
The mustard seed
Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is
like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed,
which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows
and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the
birds of the air can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32, NIV)
Three times in Mark 4 Jesus compares His kingdom to seed.
The story of the soils (vv. 1-20) tells us that His kingdom
meets with different responses. It is not externally imposed, but internally
The parable of the scattered seed (vv. 26-29) informs us
that His kingdom is developmental. None of us is fully formed on the first day
we begin to follow Him.
The third story, the mustard seed, shows us the extensive
reach of His kingdom. It grows from tiny to huge.
Jesus starts the parable with a question: “What shall we say
the kingdom of God is like?” As the Master Teacher, Jesus sought to get
students to think on their own. “Peter, Thomas, Matthew, the rest of you
— what you do you think?” I suspect that before Jesus gave His own answer
He engaged in a discussion with them and got their viewpoints.
How would you answer that question?
Kingdom is not a word we use in a democracy. But, Jesus’
hearers were well familiar with the term because it expressed the political
realm in which they lived. Herod ruled as king in Galilee. Rome’s kingdom
extended throughout the Mediterranean world.
So, it would be natural to assume that the disciples’ first
answer would be: “The kingdom of God is a government that has authority to
impose its will and law on all its citizens. As God’s kingdom, it is mightier
in armament and power than any human institution. The leader of that kingdom is
God’s Messiah who will overthrow Rome, Herod, and any other human leader or
power that stands in His way.”
But that’s the wrong answer.
Jesus compares the kingdom to the smallest of seeds.
Like the mustard seed, Jesus’ kingdom didn’t look like much
in the beginning. He spent His days and nights investing most of His time in a
small band of unknowns, whom others would have discarded for their lack of
In launching His kingdom, Jesus truly used the smallest seed
possible — including you and me. Like the disciples, we don’t appear to
have much potential.
But Jesus knows the transforming power of His presence in
those who follow Him. Collectively they become “the largest of all garden
plants.” Jesus sees into the future and knows from the beginning that He will
have more followers than any person in the history of humanity.
What began as small will end up as “a great multitude that
no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing
before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
The mustard plant is therefore a descriptive term for the
Church. And, to that Church come “the birds of the air.” These birds are not
sinister beings, as some commentators have falsely assumed. They’re simply
looking for a safe place to land, a place to rest in the shade from the boiling
sun of life’s burdens and searing sorrows.
That’s what every church is meant to be — a refuge and
safe place for all in which shelter and shade can be found.
GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies
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