Page 2 of 6: The Mustard Seed
The Mustard Seed Tree
A little research into the plant world will reveal that the mustard bush does not grow into a tree. That is totally alien to its natural growth. By Jesus saying the mustard bush changes into a tree, he is drawing our attention to two things happening here simultaneously. They do not measure up to the laws governing nature.
Therefore, where unusual growth happens and in this instance the mustard bush becomes a tree and as a consequence the ‘birds of the air’ come and nest in it – this is unnatural. That tree has not grown from sowing the gospel seed – its planting may be the result of a mixture of seeds.
Keeping Within The Laws Of Nature.
Observe the church for instance. There can be throngs of people attending, but no-good seed being sown. No rich teaching of the kingdom truths.
I’ve gone into church preaching and training and as a consultant to help the leadership and the people to show how to grow the local church. I might go into three churches a day on a one-month tour into a country or region. On the other hand, I might go into one group of churches over a month and work with them daily to train people in it.
Being subjected to that kind of exposure left me in no doubt that the visible church is not perfect. The visible church is often a large tree that’s grown out of all proportion to what it’s supposed to be.
Birds of the air nest in trees
There, nesting in that tree there will be some wrong teachings, some people in it for their own ends, con artists in it for the money, worldly Christians, immorality, you name it. Jesus said let the mixed seeds all grow together. Harvest time will reveal their true nature.
Jesus said this unnatural misnamed ‘mustard tree’, when fully grown, attracts ‘birds of the air’. Wherever the term, ‘birds of the air’, is used in Scripture, it is symbolic of rotting meat-eating carrion birds, and not harmless doves.
Israel’s farming methods were in accordance with their laws: no mixed seed. Jesus is saying in effect, ‘A farmer (inadvertently) sowed mustard seed in the field. Embedded in this parable is what the listeners would know.
The mustard seed is not a large seed, quite small in fact and insignificant in comparison with all the seeds on the earth. Often, it is only grown for the purpose of being ploughed back into the earth again as a nutrient for the soil. When it is fully grown, it develops into a large bush.
No one wants thousands of mustard bushes in their plot of ground. To sow mustard seed is to cut it down and plough it back into the soil. Its nutrients are released to prepare the soil for the next sowing that takes place. Not all sowers reap the harvest, but all good harvests need sowers for soil preparation to prepare for the final harvest.
Now, any gardener knows a shrub (many short branches growing from the one root into a bush) and a tree (having only one trunk) are completely different. (Matt 13:31-32). The point Jesus is making is, that something very unusual begins to take place that is quite out of character with the mustard seed.
While it remains a bush, we can assume it was mustard seed that was planted. However, where a tree with one trunk begins to take shape and grows so big that its branches attract carrion birds of the air to nest in it, proves it was mixed planting – not only mustard seed but another kind of seed.
Jesus goes onto explain how anyone making observations of the Kingdom of Heaven will become aware of this unusual growth. When this ‘change’ happens, the household of faith, the church, takes on a new appearance, an unconventional character. It is no longer a ‘mustard bush’.
The Kingdoms Of This World
Having left its first estate, it no longer represents the Kingdom of Heaven, but rather, it takes on the image of the kingdoms of this world. Where this happens the ‘birds of the air’, the vultures, such as the cults, the counterfeits, the power-hungry, the false workers, the hierarchical patriarchal power-hungry, and the politicking, all come and lodge in its branches.
Church history, with all of its bloody wars as well as the increase in cults today and the fallout from the church, all proclaim a ‘works’ gospel. Some powerful trees have been planted in the earth and throughout the centuries have propagated ‘another gospel’. This confirms Jesus’ analogy.
The Gospel: the least of all seeds
The humble mustard seed, on the other hand, the ‘least of all seeds’, should grow as it’s supposed to. It grows into a ‘kingdom of God’ mustard bush. The local church is in likeness to this metaphor. The leader is known, their kids go to the same school as yours. It retains the same flavour and essence those early believers exhibited.
They mixed with the locals. They were involved in the local community. They went everywhere gossiping the gospel, doing kind deeds, speaking a kind word. They sowed common-looking small seeds, as they went about their business. This is not quoting text, this is acting it out so that the person can see and understand the message.
The disciples, ordinary women and men, turned the entire world upside down. They did what comes naturally to the believer. Like birds that depend on one another daily for their needs to be met, they tell those in the local neighbourhood about the provision they’ve found.
Gospel sowing is simple work
Mustard seed has its work to do of renourishing the soil. It is the simplest work, in its purest form, is to nourish the earth. Where it’s ploughed back into the soil, cast abroad, sown throughout the known world, dispersed by the wind of the Holy Spirit, scattered everywhere, it will have a different effect on different people, irritating some, feeding, nourishing, replenishing, and healing others.
The mustard seed is also an irritant; it is hot. It makes the eyes and nose water. It was and still is in some places used for healing the sick. Mustard is hot. It bites and it makes the sick person who is languishing sit up and take notice. The local church is to be like that. Springing up from a random seed sown where no one had particularly planted it.
Where the seed is scattered in the community surrounding the local church and believers, its effect can be seen. Its presence makes people’s eyes smart. Others start to feel very hot wherever it is sown. For others, it causes them to sit up and take notice, or, where ploughed back into the community, nurtures the soil of people’s minds.
Some seeds have an interesting appearance. The mustard seed has no outward appeal. The Gospel, the Word of God, is like that. When preached in simplicity, is not like other teachings, such as a doctrine of works.
Debaters And Philosophers Of This World
Those who love to debate, use ‘great swelling words’. These can be used even to show off someone’s intellectual prowess, or the like. (2 Pet 2: 18). They are often mingled with worldly ideas, of getting rich quick schemes.
It underscores vanity, ego, of ‘who is the greatest’ in the kingdom, of boasting and self-love. Its structure will definitely be hierarchical, with men only in the lead, women in their non-teaching, non-decision-making roles.
Jesus himself is the Word become flesh. It’s not about us, it’s about Him. The Scriptures say He was nothing to be desired. He was hiding until his appearance, which lasted on this earth just three and a half years.
When carrying out the work of the evangelist, take this, the principle governing the seed. It is the key that opens all the locks of a set of teachings on life. All of life on earth springs from a seed. The seed that gives birth to Spirit is the Word of God. It never changes.
Become a sower by taking up the seed and sowing it wherever we go. Allow the Word to become flesh – let it become our life. Give all of our life to its propagation.
Take what we can see in the natural world and use these as examples to teach spiritual truths to people. Learn ourselves by doing it and then teach others the spiritual principles springing from them. These spiritual realities are meat, reserved for those who are ‘grown up into Him in all things’ (Eph 4: 15).
Natural to Spiritual
The Creator God has given to us the natural realm to learn about realities in the spiritual realm. What a wonderful world! What could be simpler for us to understand than seed, soil, and harvest? God has created the seed to reproduce itself, after its own kind. Whichever kind of seed is sown, its fruit will be reaped.
The sower can affect the seed sown and there are many ways to do this. But finally, the main ingredients that can affect the seed sown is the soil’s condition, water, and light. This is the basic teaching we receive from nature itself. It is as unchanging as seedtime and harvest, summer and winter, light and dark.
“Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you”. Genesis 1:29 Source.
Next time: The Soil
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