Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew #64)

Text: Matthew 13:31-32

This parable shows up in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Sometimes it says kingdom of God, sometimes it says kingdom of heaven, so that distinction doesn’t make any difference in this parable. We’re going to read this parable in each book and I’d like for you to tell me what the common principle of each parable is. What is the point of the parable in each case because in each case it is exactly the same? What is being contrasted?

  • Matthew 13:31-32 – least to greatest
  • Mark 4:30-31 – least to greatest
  • Luke 13:18-19 – least to greatest

Let’s deal with a couple of common interpretations you might have heard.

  • Interpretation #1 – The mustard seed is the gospel and spreads all over the place to become the great kingdom of heaven. The reason this is said is because the mustard seed is likened to faith in a couple of other places. The mustard seed is not faith in this parable, it is like the kingdom of heaven.
  • Interpretation #2 – The mustard seed is faith and unnaturally grows into this monstrosity because it’s planted in the world. Then the birds, which are interpreted as devils, come and live in it. This interpretation says the point of the parable is the misplaced faith in the world and the eventual corruption of the kingdom of heaven.
    • The birds are assumed to be bad because the birds in the first parable were bad. But not every item in these parables represents the same thing each time. The seed in the sower parable is the word of God but the seed in the wheat and tares parable are people; so the birds are not always the same thing in the parables.
    • The other problem with this is the parable is not describing anything evil. In Mark 4:31-32 this same parable is applied to the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God explicitly has no elements of corruption in it whatsoever according to Galatians 5, so this can’t be about corruption.
    • Lastly, the mustard seed is like the kingdom of heaven, it is not likened to faith as it is in Matthew 17 and Luke 17

The comparison is something that is the least becomes the greatest. In the economy of God’s kingdom humility comes before honor: See Proverbs 15:33, 18:12 (it’s the opposite of pride before the fall, humility before honor), and 22:4.

  • Matthew 18:1-4 – Without conversion there is not even a place for you, and without humility as a child there is no way to excel when the kingdom comes. (Luke 9:46-48)
  • Matthew 20:20-28 – Least to greatest is set in contrast to the kingdoms of this world. (Luke 22:24-38)
  • Matthew 23:1-12 – Great in man’s eyes is nothing in God’s eyes. Great in God’s eyes is nothing in man’s eyes. (1 Corinthians 1:27)
  • 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 – The world glorifies the flesh in every way: beauty, strength, size, speed, possessions, sexuality, singing voice, and any other physical attribute that can be glorified.
  • Philippians 2:5-11 – The KING lived this truth. (See verses 2-3 serving others like Christ)
  • James 4:6-10
  • 1 Peter 5:6-7 – Spend your time fighting God for things you don’t really want. Things that will rust in your garage. Things that will have weeds grow around them after a couple years of ownership. And we fight God’s will in order to serve our covetous desires.