These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the gospel of Mark. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
Small things can become significant things in the hands of God. Don’t judge what God is doing by how it starts, but judge it by how it ends. Some things have hidden potential that you cannot see until later. Those brief encounters may be big moments. Those small prayers may result in mighty movements of God. That little word of encouragement may be life or death for someone.
Today, Jesus is going to teach us more about this regarding the Kingdom of God. Jesus has been telling several parables to help His followers understand what the Kingdom of God is like. We come to another parable in Mark 4.
Remember, a parable is a story or object lesson that takes something physical to help us understand something spiritual. A parable gives insight into what we cannot see by using what we can see. Jesus has already taught us that you cannot see the Kingdom of God, but you can understand it.
Let’s see what Jesus has to say about the Kingdom of God. In Mark 4:30 we are told,
Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? 31 It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, 32 but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” 33 Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. 34 In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them. (Mark 4:30-34, NLT)
As a follower of Jesus, it is important that you understand the Kingdom of God and how it works and what it is about. We have already learned that the “Kingdom of God” deals with the realm of salvation: how we get saved, how we grow spiritually, and where we are ultimately headed as believers. The Kingdom of God deals with how God saved you from the penalty of sin, is saving you from the power of sin, and will save you from the presence of sin. The kingdom of God also deals with God’s reign and authority.
The parable of the “mustard seed” teaches us about how the “Kingdom of God” spreads from one person to another, one generation to another, one nation to another. The parable of the mustard seed is about the advancement of God’s kingdom and how God uses what seems like little things to accomplish big things. So, what can we learn about the Kingdom of God from this parable?
The Kingdom of God is inauspicious
Number one, the kingdom of God is inauspicious. Inauspicious refers to something that does not show or suggest that future success is likely. This is where you look at something and think there is very little chance this will amount to much.
In verse 30, Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? This is interesting to me because here we get a little glimpse of Jesus thinking. He is thinking about how to illustrate and teach the kingdom of God to His disciples. He is searching through various object lessons that will help His disciples learn and grow.
- This is a lesson for all of us. When we are teaching others about God’s kingdom and God’s truth we need to start where the person is, not where you think they should be. When you are giving biblical advice or trying to help someone understand God’s truth think through the various ways that it would make sense to who is listening. Give them a story or object lesson that would make sense to them. Begin where they are.
The reason Jesus is searching for a way to “describe the Kingdom of God” to His disciples is because they had a wrong view of what God’s Kingdom is really like. He needed to correct that. We are not told how they viewed the Kingdom of God, but…
- Perhaps they viewed the kingdom of God as a high mountain that towered over the world, displaying its glory, power and majesty. If they did, they had it wrong.
- Maybe they imagined the kingdom of God as a mighty river that carried its life to faraway places. If they did, they had it wrong.
- Perhaps their minds pictured the kingdom as a massive oak tree, standing tall and providing shade and shelter. If they did, they are getting closer but they are still wrong.
We don’t know what they were really thinking, but it obvious they had the wrong idea of God’s kingdom, because Jesus felt the need to correct them, teach them, and help them understand what God’s kingdom is really all about… and so do we.
Instead of a towering mountain, mighty river, or a majestic oak tree Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a tiny mustard seed! Jesus uses the image of something small to teach us about something bigger than we can fully comprehend.
In verse 31 Jesus goes on to say, It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. Imagine the astonishment of the disciples when they heard that! The Lord was about to describe the kingdom of God! Surely He would use something big and majestic as object lesson in order to capture the global empire and impact the Kingdom of God would have. No, Jesus said “it is like a mustard seed planted in the ground.”
- On your outline I have provided a picture of a “mustard seed” so you can see the size of it. A “mustard seed” is one of the smallest seeds on the planet. In the area where Jesus lived, it was the smallest seed that people used.
- To help His disciples understand the Kingdom of God Jesus used the tiny “mustard seed” that was “planted in the ground” as an object lesson. Think about this. If that tiny seed was on the ground you would not be able to see it, let alone having it buried in the ground.
In peoples’ eyes the kingdom of God seems small and insignificant. It seems out of the way. Not even noticeable at times. But God’s kingdom likes to take the small things and unexpected things and use them for great and mighty things. You see this over and over throughout Scripture.
- Jesus took a boy’s small lunch and used it to miraculously feed thousands.
- God took a small family to build an ark for the coming flood.
- God used a forgotten man named Moses who lived in the wilderness to lead God’s people out of slavery.
- God used a young boy with a sling shot to defeat Goliath.
- God used a little baby born in a stable to save the world.
God’s kingdom is inauspicious. It takes things and people that shows future success is not likely and uses them in incredible ways. Don’t judge the kingdom by how it starts, but judge the kingdom by how it ends. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.”
The kingdom of God is growing
Number two, the kingdom of God is growing. Jesus goes on to say in verse 31, “It is the smallest of all seeds, 32 but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” Let’s walk through each of these phrases about the Kingdom of God being compared to a mustard seed.
Jesus said, “It is the smallest of all seeds.” Even though the mustard seed is very small, it is not the smallest seed in the world. However, to the people Jesus was talking to it was the smallest seed they used and knew of. Because it was a common seed and because of its size it became the symbol of that which was tiny (cf. Matt. 17:20). It takes about 750 of them to make up a single gram. There are 28 grams in an ounce. There are between 15,000 – 21,000 mustard seeds in an ounce. It is a very small seed.
Jesus decided that this very tiny mustard seed was the perfect illustration to help His disciples and us understand something about the Kingdom of God. As you will see, it is the little things that God uses to make the biggest difference.
Jesus goes on to say, “It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants….” When the tiny mustard seed is planted in good ground, it germinates and produces a very large shrub-like plant that eventually grows to resemble a tree. Some mustard plants have been known to grow as high as 15-30 feet tall. So the image that Jesus is wanting us to get is… something very small becoming very large, something that doesn’t seem significant actually having great significance.
- An example of God’s kingdom starting small and growing, something that didn’t seem significant but had great significance is the spread of the gospel and Jesus’ disciples. Jesus began with 12 disciples. Later, there were as many as 500 believers (1 Cor. 15:6). Peter saw 3,000 becoming followers at Pentecost; and throughout the Book of Acts, that number steadily increased (Acts 4:4; 5;14; 6:1, 7). In spite of the sins and weaknesses of the church, the message has been carried to other nations; and one day, believers from every nation will worship before His throne (Rev. 5:9). Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, “it is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants.”
- Another example of this kingdom truth about God’s kingdom starting small and looking insignificant when in reality there is divine power at work here is seen in individual lives.
- Look at David. He was a mustard seed. He was the youngest son in a family of eight boys. He was ignored and given the job no one else in the family wanted, taking care of the sheep. God took the mustard seed and made a giant-killing king out of his life.
- Consider Gideon! He was a mustard seed too. He was from the smallest family in the smallest tribe in the nation of Israel. God took Gideon and used him as a great military leader.
- This same is true for you. In the grand scheme of things you are a mustard seed. You are small. You are tiny. Most of the people on this planet may never know your name, but God decided to save you, fill you, give you a new heart, new mind, new purpose, and new direction. You can be used to bless many people for God’s glory and His kingdom. Don’t focus on the size of you, focus on the size of the God who can use you.
There is an interesting statement tucked away in Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” (NLT).
Jesus goes on to say, “It is the smallest of all seeds, 32 but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches and birds can make nests in its shade.” The influence of the Kingdom spreads throughout the world due to the “long branches” and all types of “birds” or people have been able to be blessed by its “shade.” What could that be referring too?[i]
The kingdom of God has blessed people in practical ways. The mustard seed and the mustard plant were used in several ways.
- Shelter: Its branches spread themselves abroad offering a place for the birds to rest. In the shadow of that plant the birds found shelter from the storms; rest from their weariness and shade from the heat of the sun.
- Food: People gathered its leaves and served them up as food. The seeds were crushed and used as a condiment giving flavor to some of the more bland foods that were available.
- Medicine: The seeds were crushed and mixed with other things to make medicine to help with snake, scorpion and spider bites. It was also used to fight colds and other illnesses.
If you take the “birds” to mean people then all types of people have been blessed because of the kingdom of God working in and through other the people of God. The long branches of the kingdom of God have been providing shade for many people for many generations to all nations.
- Everywhere the kingdom of God has gone, it has brought with it hospitals and schools, truth, morality, and ethics; decency and compassion; and, above all, salvation.
- Wherever the gospel has gone, it has abolished cannibalism, child sacrifice, polygamy, demonism, slavery, racism, and a thousand other such evils.
- It has built orphanages, cared for the sick, and comforted the bereaved.
- Wherever the gospel has gone it has provide half way houses, recovery programs, shelters, housing, and disaster relief.
- Red, yellow, black and white… rich and poor… educated and uneducated… deaf, dumb, blind, and crippled… the good and the bad… all types of birds have found shade underneath the kingdom of God.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.” This brings us to number three.
The kingdom of God is influential
Number three, the kingdom of God is influential. In verse 33 Mark tells us, Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. You can only understand so much. God knows this. As you read His Word, think about what it says, and listen to others who teach God’s truth you will discover that you begin to understand more and more. Just as a child as to learn numbers, then learn to count, then learn how to do simple match before moving on to fractions, division, algebra, calculus, and trigonometry so there is a learning process regarding God’s kingdom.
Throughout your life God will teach you His Word as you study it and He will use many stories and illustrations to teach you what you need to know. Stay faithful. Keep following. Keep learning. Keep growing. Let God’s Word influence your thinking and living.
Mark goes on to say in verse 34, In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them (NLT). You need to be a part of a “public ministry” like church and listen to God’s Word taught, but you also need to spend time “alone” with Jesus studying God’s Word and letting Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, “explain everything to” you. Dig into the Word of God, be a student of it and let God talk to you through it. Hear what He has to say. Let’s God’s Word influence you.
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.” God can take something or someone that seems small and insignificant and turn it into a blessing that reaches many. Don’t overlook the mustard seed moments in your life.
- That little conversation you had where you shared the Word of God with someone may be the turning the point that person needed.
- That short prayer you prayed with your friend may be the key to mountains being moved.
- That small act of generosity because of your love for Christ and people may be the shade someone needed to get them through a difficult crisis.
- That small act of kindness that was prompted by your faith may have been the shield that protected someone from the flaming arrows of the enemy.
Small things becoming big things. What seems insignificant is truly significant. What most people would overlook God is going to use. This is what the Kingdom of God is like. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed planted in the ground.
[i] birds can make nests in its shade. In the Parable of the Sower and Soils, the birds stood for Satan, who snatches the seed (Mark 4:15). If we are to be consistent in our interpretation, we must take this into consideration, for both parables were taught on the same day. The growth of the kingdom will not result in the conversation of the world. In fact, some of the growth will give opportunity for Satan to get in and go to work! There was Judas among the disciples and Annanias and Saphira were in the church (Acts 5:1-11) and Satan’s ministers boldly invaded the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 11:13-15).