Mustard seed faith



“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

Ray Stedman — well-known pastor and respected Bible teacher at Peninsula Bible Church, Palo Alto, California in the 1970s and ‘80s — had a bold interpretation of this parable of Jesus. He pointed out that the mustard plant does not become a tree. It is mostly a low-lying plant that grows about 2 or 3 feet high and fills a hillside with beautiful yellow flowers. In some cases it can get up to 5 or 6 feet tall, but even then, it does not have branches that would support birds or bird’s nests. Its growth is not upward and sturdy, it is outward and fragile. Vulnerable might be a good word.

Therefore, if this is true, then this parable is talking about abnormal growth. That makes sense. Certainly the church for about 15 centuries after Christ grew into a huge institutional structure that housed all kinds of evil. Not the low-lying quiet influence that spread outward across the land, but the dominant political institutional structure that vied for control with kings and queens. People were beheaded, tortured and burned at the stake for heresy. And the definition of heresy flip-flopped every few years depending on who was in power. It wasn’t pretty. It was nothing like beautiful yellow flowers, spreading out across a field and waving in the wind (though I’m sure there were remnants of true believers everywhere).

The main lesson here is that the influence of the kingdom of God is not going to come from alliances with human, earthly seats of power. These are dangerous, ill-used and result in warped and false representations of the truth of the gospel. The influence of the kingdom of God comes through individuals like you and me, moving out into the marketplace and taking up our places in the world. It’s low-lying and it’s outward. Call it mustard seed faith, if you will.

It is very important that we understand this here in American especially now as we are on the brink of a very divisive, controversial election. As citizens of this country, we need to all get out and use our representative privilege to vote intelligently and with the choices we think are the best, given the limitations of human endeavor and susceptibility of individuals to evil. Vote your best choice; vote your conscience, but keep in mind that there is not a Christian political party, nor is there a certain Christian agenda that embodies the whole counsel of the word of God, nor will we all vote the same way because of this. This is actually a good thing because no human institution can represent the kingdom of God except the church of Jesus Christ — and by that I mean the church universal made up of believers all over the world, not just a coalition of American Christians who all think alike.

I’ve always wondered why the parables of the Kingdom almost all have some evil influences present. You’ve got birds (the devil) snatching up the seed that doesn’t fall on good soil, you have the weeds with the wheat, the good fish with the bad fish, and yeast spread in with the dough. I thought this was supposed to be the Kingdom of Heaven?

I think the only clear interpretation of this is the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven on earth is going to be operating in the presence of evil and evil forces. It’s going to be a battle. We must be on guard. We can’t just hide inside the four walls of the church and think we will be insulated from any evil influences. Not true. Evil influences are everywhere and we have seen this over and over again as pastors and church leaders have fallen prey to the wiles of the devil. So we don’t get a break here. You don’t get to be spiritually lazy.

So be on guard. Be a student of the Word. Surround yourself with believers you can trust because they share the whole truth about themselves. And don’t just blindly follow anybody. Follow the Lord, and check out your leaders and mentors by the Scriptures the way the Bereans checked out Paul — to make sure he was on track with the Word of God.

And keep looking for the Kingdom God. The kingdom of God flies under the radar. It is not always easy to detect. If you hear someone announcing “The Kingdom of God is here,” or “It’s over there,” they are probably wrong. Look for that low-lying mustard plant, the result of a steady, committed mustard seed faith that works its way into all sectors of society, bringing the Kingdom of God through individual followers of Christ like you and me, not by way of any politics of power.

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6 Responses to Mustard seed faith

  1. Mark says:

    From Today’s Catch: “…bringing the Kingdom of God through individual followers of Christ like you and me, not by way of any politics of power.” Amen!!!!

  2. John A Fagliano says:

    Great catch, John. One of the best.

  3. An editorial from our Sunday newspaper offered up some practical insight for this years elections by reminding us that “times like these have tried men’s souls before – times marked by hatred, racism, fear, greed, panic…”
    The article also printed some wise quotes from people who helped shepherd our nation through perilous periods in history:

    “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory… will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as they surely will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
    – President Abraham Lincoln (March 4, 1861 – First inaugural speech just one month before the outbreak of the Civil War)

    “When the mariner has been tossed for many days in thick weather, and on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun, to take his latitude, and ascertain how far the elements have driven him from his true course. Let us imitate this prudence, and, before we float farther on the waves of this debate, refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least be able to conjecture where we now are.”
    – Senator Daniel Webster (January 26, 1830 – Webster’s “Liberty and Union, one and inseparable, now and forever” speech)

    “Our new constitution [has] succeeded beyond what I apprehended it would have done. I did not at first believe that 11 states of 13 would have consented to a plan consolidating them as much into one [nation].
    A sense of this necessity and a submission to it is to me a new and consolatory proof that wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”
    – Vice President Thomas Jefferson (January 8, 1789 – From a letter written to Richard Price, a British theologian, moralist, and supporter of the American Revolution)

    ““It is not only important but mentally invigorating to discuss political matters with people whose opinions differ radically from our own. For the same reason, I believe it is a sound idea to attend not only the meetings of one’s own party but of the opposition. Find out what people are saying, what they are thinking, what they believe. This is an invaluable check on one’s own ideas…If we are to cope intelligently with a changing world, we must be flexible and willing to relinquish opinions that no longer have any bearing on existing conditions.”
    – First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1960 – From her book “You Learn By Living”, chapter 10: How Everyone Can Take Part in Politics)

    And, last but not least, two quotes from President Harry Truman:
    “It’s plain hokum. If you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em. It’s an old political trick. But this time it won’t work.”
    “The dictators of the world say that if you tell a lie often enough, why, people will believe it. Well, if you tell the truth often enough, they’ll believe it and go along with you.”

    Give those “better angels” another try by voting.
    If you don’t, you’ve already cast your ballot – so don’t complain.

  4. Chuck Bolsinger says:

    I read that Israeli scientists ‘determined’ that the manna that saved the wanderers from starvation was the seeds of a lowly desert plant (in the pea family I think) that popped up in response to minor changes in temperature. I mentioned this to my pastor who asked if I didn’t believe it was s miracle. No. Just because there is now a Latin name for the plant that served s special purpose doesn’t disqualify it’s role as miraculous.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Ever since I first met a mustard plant in California, I have wondered if the mustard plant of North America is different from the mustard plant of the eastern Mediterranean. (Many New World plants were named by colonists for some similarity to certain Old World plants even though modern botantists consider them to be different species). You and Ray Stedman have given me a different way to understand the discrepancy between the parable and my observation of the world. Thank you.

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