A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Mustard Seed Kingdom

The Cross as the Tree of Life, Apse Mosaic, San Clemente (12th century)

Pentecost +9 – Musted Seed Kingdom
Rev. Doug Floyd
1 Kings 3:3-14, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-50

I was sitting in a church service during the offering daydreaming. Walking across a desert, I felt overcome with heat and was so thirsty! I told the Lord I needed something to drink and a canteen came down from the sky. I’m really thirsty Lord. Please help. Then suddenly I saw a pool of water surrounded by all kinds of trees. I dove into the water and was thoroughly refreshed. It was a big church, so the offering went on for several minutes. I decided to open my Bible and read some. For some reason, I just opened randomly to a place in Isaiah.

Here is what I read:
17 When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it. (Isaiah 41:17-20)

I was stunned. My daydream of the desert was similar to this passage from Isaiah. This passage became a defining aspect of my ministry. The wilderness or desert would be a defining part of my own spiritual journey. In that place of dryness and struggle, God would meet me with His grace. The images of the trees surrounding the pool of water are images of God’s people thriving amid the wilderness.

This image of trees plays such an important role all through Scripture. Trees are associated with kings and kingdoms but also with God’s people who are a royal priesthood. In our Gospel reading today Jesus speaks of a mustard seed that becomes a tree as an image of the kingdom of God. He says,

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

I want to pause over this image of the kingdom of God this morning. I am going to jump around Scripture a bit, but I want to focus on two aspects of what Jesus said: the tree as an image of kingdom and the image of moving from seed to fruit as an image of wisdom.

 When Jesus says that the “birds of the air come and make nests in its branches,” he is alluding to an ancient image of the kingdom as a place of provision for many peoples. When we look at the prophets, we see a more direct connection to Jesus’s statement. Daniel describes Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom in this way, “Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.” (Daniel 4:12)

Nebuchadnezzar’s tree is cut down: a sign of judgment on his pride. The Assyrian kingdom is compared to trees.

Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade,
and of towering height,
its top among the clouds.
The waters nourished it;
the deep made it grow tall,
making its rivers flow
around the place of its planting,
sending forth its streams
to all the trees of the field.
So it towered high
above all the trees of the field;
its boughs grew large
and its branches long
from abundant water in its shoots.
All the birds of the heavens
made their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the beasts of the field
gave birth to their young,
and under its shadow
lived all great nations.
It was beautiful in its greatness,
in the length of its branches;
for its roots went down
to abundant waters. (Ezekiel 31:3-7)

This kingdom will be cut down. “Whom are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? You shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below. You shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword.” (Ezekiel 31:18)

The tree of Assyria will be cut down and lie with the trees of Eden. Who are the trees of Eden? I would take this to mean the judgment on the kingdom of Adam and Eve when they are kicked out of the garden. The kingdoms of man fall and continue to fall. Even today the kingdoms of man may be like a great tree that provides refuge for the birds of the air. The image could be applied to governments and businesses and any organization that provides for the needs of people, but these kingdoms are temporary. At some point, they will fall.

The prophets prophecy that there is a kingdom that will stand. Ezekiel speaks of the restoration of Israel in the following way,

22 Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” (Ezekie 17:22-24)

This is the kingdom that Jesus speaks about. The Kingdom of God is not simply metaphorical, it is a real kingdom. It is our hope and our provision. Only Jesus uses the image of the mustard see instead of the Cedar. The parable of the mustard seed offers insight into the nature of this kingdom. Let me refresh us with the words of Jesus,

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

This image of mustard seed could be one way to speak of God’s unexpected and misunderstood wisdom. First, the mustard seed is so tiny that it is virtually invisible. The kingdom of God is small. It is easy to be attracted to larger than life movements, and God is free to work in large movements. But often the kingdom appears in small and almost undetectable ways.

Consider the life of Christ. From the standpoint of history, he appears to be an insignificant Palestinian teacher who had a small group of followers and who was eventually killed for his teaching. Hardly worth remembering except that His words and presence continue to change lives and raise up followers.

In your own life, don’t be surprised when the work of God in Christ will be small, almost insignificant. Rest in the Lord. He is faithful. His Word will not return void. He works in small ways and slow ways. The process of moving from the mustard seed to the fruitful plant takes time. The mustard plant is not to be compared with the giant cedar tree. Jesus says that this small plant images the kingdom. Bigger, more impressive kingdoms that look like giant cedars will come and go, but the mustard tree will remain.

Let me add on side aspect of wisdom. In our first lesson today, we saw a connection between kingdom and wisdom. In the Old Testament, wisdom grows over time through the fear of the Lord and obedience to God’s commands. The people learn wisdom as they struggle to apply God’s words in specific situation. Wisdom comes from applied obedience. We all grow in wisdom as we walk in the way of the Lord.

Think of a practical example. A husband and wife raise a child. They learn and relearn by making mistakes and trying to improve. When the child is grown, they have practical wisdom to offer new parents. Everything in life works this way. We do things. We make mistakes. We learn. We grow in wisdom. This school of wisdom is often slow and gradual.

But there is another aspect of wisdom directly related to the parable of the mustard seed. The wisdom of the cross. Paul writes, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

The kingdoms of Nebuchadnezzar, of Egypt, of Assyria all end with the kingdom falling, the tree being cut down, the kings dying. The kingdom the Jesus preaches because with a fall. Jesus dies on the cross. Then he is raised from the dead. His kingdom grows and takes shape on the other side of death. It cannot fall.

The cross of Christ is a one-time event that changes everything. It is also wisdom for followers of Christ. We embrace the cross. We let go. We trust God’s faithfulness. Our plans and our hopes may die, but we entrust them to God. As we embrace the way of the cross, we are learning the way of love, the way of trust, the way of God’s faithfulness.

The mustard see kingdom of God may not look impressive but trust in the goodness of God. We live in the midst of the kingdoms that will fall. Let us not put our trust in the ways of the world but trust in the faithfulness of God.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.