It’s the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown, it’s taller than the vegetables and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.
My childhood worship memories are filled with singing the great gospel hymns: “Amazing Grace,” “Because He Lives,” “Standing on the Promises,” and “Victory in Jesus.” Admittedly, singing loud seemed more important than singing in tune. And singing in parts trumped singing in unison every time.
In 1924, Kittie Suffield wrote the often-sung hymn “Little is Much When God is in It.” The chorus proclaimed:
Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame.
There's a crown and you can win it,
if you go in Jesus' Name.
In chapter 13 of the Gospel of Matthew, we reach the midpoint of his narrative and a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. The polarization of response to Jesus made it necessary for Him to concentrate on those who remained open to His message.
In His third major discourse, He taught by means of parables. Parables are short, metaphorical narratives designed to teach truths about spiritual realities in ways that reveal insights to those open to Jesus’ claims about Himself.[i]
As we come to the third parable in Matthew 13 about a sower and a seed, the focus shifts to the contrast between the beginning and the end product. The mustard seed was the smallest of the commonly used garden seeds in biblical times and culture. Thus, it was commonly used throughout the ancient world as a symbol of small size.
Jesus chose to use it because it also produces a full-grown bush that’s large when compared to the size of the original seed. The plant can sometimes reach as high as ten or fifteen feet.[ii]
It’s from small beginnings that God does some of His best work. A widow, a boy, a small band of fishermen, a few believers filled with the Holy Spirit—they all illustrate how God can use common, ordinary people to achieve His purpose.
This thread runs throughout the entire Bible: Abraham, Moses, and Joshua; judges, prophets, and kings; and disciples, missionaries, and Christ-followers.
We often see ourselves in the image of a mustard seed: insignificant, unprepared, ill equipped. Yet God see’s beyond our limited viewpoint and desires for us to see ourselves as He sees us: standing tall, branching out, and providing for the needs of others.
It’s not by accident that you’ve been planted in this place at this time. God’s at work in, through, and all around us. He’s using ordinary people to do extraordinary things in His kingdom. Dream big and know that God works in humility and small beginnings.
[i] Dockery, D. S., Butler, T. C., Church, C. L., Scott, L. L., Ellis Smith, M. A., White, J. E., & Holman Bible Publishers (Nashville, T. (1992). Holman Bible Handbook (551–554). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
[ii] Weber, S. K. (2000). Vol. 1: Matthew. Holman New Testament Commentary (199). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
- What’s a parable? Why did Jesus teach using parables?
- Jesus asked, “How can we illustrate the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to describe it?” What personal stories, illustrations, or parables can you tell others that describe the kingdom of God?
- What’s God calling you to do today in His kingdom? Do you feel insignificant, unprepared, and ill equipped to meet this challenge? Do you have the courage to see yourself as God sees you and take the first step in fulfilling His call?