The Parables of Jesus
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Mark 4:30-32:

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?  It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”

Among this crowd that came to listen to Jesus were some scribes and Pharisees who had, unfortunately, perverted the whole purpose and mission of the Messiah.  They had taken the ideas, the philosophies, the system of the world and applied it to the kingdom of God.  Then Jesus came.  He was poor, uneducated, and, in their eyes, insignificant.  How could He be the One to fulfill that great mission of the Messiah, who was supposed to come as a conquering ruler and get rid of the Romans and establish the kingdom of God?  In response to this false theology, Jesus spoke this parable of the mustard seed (and the following parable of the leaven, where the woman put a little leavening into the dough and it leavened the whole bread).

All three of the synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — record the parable of the mustard seed.  But somehow Matthew omits the first statement which is a question and which is extremely important in order to understand the parable.  Turn to Mark 4.  We are going to study this parable from Mark where we have the full parable.  It is recorded in Luke, too, but we will look at Mark.  Notice that Jesus began this parable by asking two questions.  Mark 4:30:

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?”

The Pharisees were trying to compare the kingdom of God to a typical kingdom of this world, except it would be stronger, it would be greater, it would be richer.  Jesus was simply saying by these questions, “There is nothing in secular history, there is no earthly kingdom with which I can compare the kingdom of God because the kingdom of God is in complete opposition to anything that is human.”  I was very interested to notice the observation that is found in Christ’s Object Lessons by Ellen G. White.  I would like to read it to you because it involves something here that we need to apply to our own situation.  Listen to this from Christ’s Object Lessons, page 77 [brackets indicate my comments]:

“Earthly governments prevail by physical force; they maintain their dominion by war; but the founder of the new kingdom [the kingdom of God] is the Prince of Peace.  The Holy Spirit represents worldly kingdoms under the symbols of fierce beasts of prey [you will find this in the books of Daniel and Revelation]; but Christ is ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.’ John 1:29.  In His plan of government there is no employment of brute force to compel the conscience.  The Jews looked for the kingdom of God to be established in the same way as the kingdoms of the world.  [This is the part I want you to listen to.]  To promote righteousness they resorted to external measures.  They devised methods and plans.  But Christ implants a principal.  By implanting truth and righteousness He counteracts error and sin.”

There are some here who would like me to follow the same methods as the Jews did:  impose upon you rules and regulations and tell you, “If you don’t shape up, you won’t make it.”  That is a worldly method.  Like one Russian Marxist told me in Ethiopia, “We don’t believe in five day non-smoking programs.  That doesn’t work.  We believe in authority.  When we pass a law, ‘No smoking,’ nobody smokes, because, if they do, they will have to swallow lead.”  God doesn’t use that method.  There was nothing in the worldly kingdom Christ could use for comparison.

So what did He do?  He took a little seed from among the different spices they used in the Middle East, He took the smallest of the spices, a little round seed approximately one-thirty-second of an inch in diameter, and He used that as a comparison.  Why?  Because the kingdom of God works in a completely different system. It does not work on the basis of rules and regulations.  He implants in the life of the believer a new life, a new principal.  When that life is released by germination and is allowed to develop it produces a bush that is bigger than any other tree.  The mustard seed, the smallest of small seeds, Jesus says, produces a bush that is so big compared to the other herbs that the birds can to rest on it and find shade.

I don’t know how many of you have seen a mustard seed.  The Jews ate what is known as kosher meat.  Have any of you tasted kosher meat?  One day we were returning from furlough and the airline forgot to bring four vegetarian dishes, they had only three.  So the stewardess said to me, “I’m sorry, we have only three.  Do you mind if we gave you a kosher meal?”  So I said, “Fine.”

I can’t remember if it was my wife or I who had it but all I remember is that it looked awful.  What they do is take the meat and scrape all the fat which, by the way, is one of the tastier parts.  Then they soak the meat in salt water until all the blood is drained.  They squeeze all the blood out until you have a piece of flesh that looks like overchewed chewing gum or shoe leather and it tastes awful.  So to make it tasty they put spices in it and one of the key spices was mustard.

Any of you who come to my home and have rice and curry, mustard is one of the key ingredients for making curry, too, because it’s a very important spice.  In America they make a paste called mustard, but that is not the way to use mustard because it has to be cooked.  Otherwise, it is abrasive.

The mustard seed was a small seed.  It looked like a grain of sand.  When Jesus spoke this parable, there were bushes of mustard because it is a common plant all over the area.  They could see this mustard bush towering above all other herbs because, even though the seed was small, it produced a huge bush, as Jesus says in this parable.  Jesus is comparing the kingdom of God with this mustard seed.  Christ is saying that the kingdom of God does not begin by force.  God doesn’t take the kingdom of the world by force.  He implants in the life of individuals, in the life of the church, a new life, a new principle.  As long as that mustard seed sits in a bottle it is useless as far as reproducing.  But the moment you sow it — and that’s what the parable is talking about — verses 3l-32:

It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.

When you sow the mustard seed into the ground something happens, because in that mustard seed is a life principle.  There’s a germ in it which has life in it.  That life is dormant until the seed is sown.  When does that seed spring to life?  That’s one of the questions we are going to answer.  Because when it does, it begins to grow and it grows it grows so big, Jesus says, that it covers the whole earth.  Now Jesus, of course, was primarily referring to the establishment of the kingdom of God as part of the Christian church.

The Christian church began with a very small, insignificant group — twelve disciples.  They were fishermen; they were peasants; they had no PhDs; they had no technology behind them; they had no budget; they were poor; they were insignificant; they counted for nothing in the eyes of the Pharisees and the scribes.  But when I turn to Acts 17:6, which was only a few years later, that seed had germinated and grown so mightily that the enemies of the gospel accused the Christian church and the disciples of turning the world upside down:

But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting:  “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here....”

Small beginning, but what a great growth.

Then by the third century A.D., the Christian church had become so strong, so influential, so powerful that the emperor of Rome, the greatest emperor in those days of the greatest empire, realized that the only way he could survive as an emperor was to become a Christian.  So, for political diplomacy, and out of wisdom from a fleshly point of view, he decided to become a Christian.

Constantine was baptized into the Christian church because he realized that there was no way to destroy the Christian Church.  The Roman Empire did try, for three centuries, to destroy the church by martyrdom, by persecution.  That great church father Tertullian made this statement, “The more you kill us; the more you mow us down, the more we spring up.”  He made this famous statement now found also in The Great Controversy:  “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.”  The blood of the martys is the seed of the church.  The more you kill us and sow us into the ground, the more Christians come up.

That is the secret of the kingdom of God.  God doesn’t want your budget; He doesn’t depend on your budget.  He doesn’t depend on technology, and we are making the mistake of trying to borrow from the world, its resources, its culture, its policy, its philosophy.  It will not work.  In the end of the 16th Century, the world moved in a new direction.  It is called the Scientific Method.  By the 18th century, we had arrived to the Age of Enlightenment.  The Holy Bible, especially in France, was chucked out.  No longer would we accept this Book, the Revelation of God.

But the scientific method created a problem in the Christian church.  “How can Christianity be acceptable to a scientific world?” was the biggest question the theologians of the 17th and 18th Centuries faced.  They came up with a solution, a solution that did not come from the Word of God.  The solution came from their own ideas and it was, “We need to make Christianity conform to the scientific method.”  They developed what is known today as the historical critical method of interpreting Scripture, by which they made the human mind the measuring stick of truth so that they would be acceptable to their peers, the scientific minds.

The Christian Church has been going down and down.  It is only when we restore the Bible as the life of the church, only as we make Christ the Source of the power of the church (like Martin Luther and the Reformation did and turned the world upside down, or like John Wesley did and turned England upside down) that we will solve the problems that we facing today.  There is a prophecy in Revelation 18:1 that has to do with the last generation of Christians.  Do you know what the prophecy says?

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven.  He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor.

Before the end comes, God is going to lighten this earth with His glory by the last generation of Christians.  That is us and we need to discover the principle of the mustard seed and what it is that caused that small seed to produce such a big bush.

The life in that seed had that ability, just like the life of Christ has the ability to produce a church that is dynamic, that is powerful, and that is able to bring shelter and shade and peace and hope to the world around us.  But that life in that mustard seed cannot produce that big bush unless it first dies.  The principle of any seed — whether it be mustard seed or corn seed or any other seed — is life out of death.  That seed has to be sown; that seed has to die before life can come out and produce that big bush.

But, first of all, let me give you a couple of texts to show you clearly that God does not depend on human resources to fulfill His mission.  Turn to l Corinthians 1.  Remember that Corinth was the most sophisticated church in the New Testament time.  It was famous for all kinds of philosophy, of all kinds of humanistic ideas which, unfortunately, were creeping into the church itself.  Paul in the very first chapter is trying to tell them that the power of the church is not in human resources.  It is in the cross of Christ.  He begins in 1 Corinthians 1:17-18 by saying:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Now I go to verses 23-29:

But we preach Christ crucified:  a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.  Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

Do you realize that we can turn this place upside down?  But it will take the life of Christ.

How should that life be manifest in us?  Let’s start with Romans 6.  Many of you have already been baptized, but the question is, “Do you know what your baptism was all about?”  This is the question, not, “Have you been baptized by immersion?”  The question is:  “Do you know what it all stands for?”  Paul tells us in Romans 6:3:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Now look at verse 4:

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

That is the mustard seed that must grow in you and become a big bush.  Let me put it in the words of Jesus.  Turn to John 12:24.  Jesus puts it very beautifully.  Here is the principle.  Jesus is talking here and He says:

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

That is the secret of the seed, and you will notice that Christ often used the seed as the principle of His kingdom.  The seed must first die before it can unleash all that is in it, which is the power to grow and to develop.  If it abides alone it does nothing, but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.  Then, in verse 25, Jesus applies this to our personal lives:

The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Turning back to 1 Corinthians 15:36, Paul brings out the same idea and he uses strong words here.  He is saying to the Corinthians:

How foolish!  What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.

Turn to 2 Corinthians 4:11:

For we who are alive [the “we” refers to believers who have died in Christ, but now are alive in Him] are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

Do you realize what Paul is teaching?  The life that you were born with, the life of the flesh, cannot grow into the kingdom of God; it has to die.  It is the life of Christ that is implanted by the new birth experience that must grow.  It must grow, it must develop until it overshadows everything else.  But the only way it can grow is if we follow the principle of the cross.  Jesus said in Luke 9:23:

Then he said to them all:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

The world does not need to see how good we are.  The world needs to see God manifested in the flesh, and that is the kingdom of God.

Now I want to turn to my final text, and I want to relate to you a story that I have already told you before but it is so pertinent that it deserves repetition.  I was conducting a week of prayer at the Seventh-day Adventist college in Ethiopia.  Among that student body was a young Egyptian, a senior student taking mechanized agriculture and he had a problem because, when he graduated, he could not remain in Ethiopia, because his permit would not allow him.  He had to go back to Egypt where he would be required to do two years of military service.  There was no choice or option like we have here in this country and during those two years he had to carry a rifle and he had to shoot any Jew that he saw.  Those were the days when reconciliation had not taken place between Egypt and Israel.

His teacher in his Bible class told him that it is a sin for Christians to carry arms.  Now during the week of prayer I gave them time for questions.  He wanted to see whether I would support his teacher or else support him, because he felt it was not wrong to fight for his country.  His argument was that in the Bible we read about how God told Israel to fight against the other nations.  So he asked me the question, “Is it a sin for Christians to carry arms and to kill?”

I gave him an answer that he was very pleased with.  I said, “Darwit, any Egyptian who does not fight for his country should be ashamed of himself.”  He said, “Thank you.”  I said, “But I am not finished.  I would like to ask you a question.”  He said, “What’s that?”  I said, “Have you ever seen a dead Egyptian fight for his country?”  He said, “No.”  I asked, “Why not?”  He said, “It’s impossible.”  I said, “Why is it impossible?”  He said, “Well, it’s obvious.  He is dead.”  “Are you a Christian?” I asked.  He said, “Yes.”  I said, “Then you are dead, too, and your life is hid in Christ, and, by the way, Christ was a Jew.”  He didn’t like that.

He said, “No, Pastor, I am not dead.  I am Darwit.  I am an Egyptian.”  “Then you are not a Christian,” I told him.  “Oh, yes, I am a Christian.  I am an Egyptian Christian,” he responded.  I said, “There is no such thing in the Bible because the Bible tells me there is no Jew; there is no Greek; there is no male; there is no female; there is no rich; there is no poor; there is no educated or uneducated; we are all one in Christ.”  He did not agree with that so I said to him, “That’s your problem, not mine.”

Two weeks later he was testing a John Deer tractor with his instructor.  They had a terrible accident.  The tractor capsized and pinned him under, crushing his body.  It took them 20 minutes to bring another tractor and raise the tractor and pull him out.  There was a hospital three kilometers away owned by the Sudan Union Indian Mission.  Two nurses and two doctors examined him.  Both doctors pronounced him dead.  The nurse came with a bed sheet to cover his body, and, as she was covering his head, his eyes blinked.  She shouted, “He is alive!”  Sure enough, he was alive because the students were praying for him and God performed a miracle.  He did come back to life!

The hospital there was a bush hospital so they did not have equipment.  They phoned us in Addis Ababa and we had to send the mission plane because the roads were terrible, too bumpy for him to go by car.  We flew him to our Addis Ababa hospital.  This was before the Marxists took it over.  He was unconscious for two, maybe three weeks.  I can’t remember exactly how long.  Then when he recovered consciousness I went to visit him.  His body from waist up to head was in bandages; his chest was crushed; his jaw was broken; he was in a terrible mess.  All that was open were his eyes.  He looked like an Egyptian mummy but a live one.

I bent down to his ears and I whispered, “Darwit, how are you?”  and I shall never forget what he said.  He said, “Darwit is dead!  You are talking to a Christian.”  It was a whisper, but it was something that he had discovered the hard way.  He never carried arms.  He had to flee for his life.  They would have shot him in Egypt.  He went to Sweden, married a Swedish girl, and I think he is still there now.  The only way that new life can spring up in your body and produce a mighty Christian is for the old life to die so that the new life may spring up.

The famous German martyr who died under Hitler at the age of 29, in his favorite book, The Cost of Discipleship, made this statement:  “When God calls you to be His disciple, He calls you to die.”  When all of us die and let the Holy Spirit take over, I can guarantee you that, small as we are, insignificant as we are, we will turn this place upside down.”

But as long as the majority refuse to die, the rest of us are struggling because the fact is this, that God wants the body, which is the kingdom of God, to grow, and He wants each one of us to die.  I can warn you:  if you refuse to die, you will end up dying yourself because Jesus said, “He who does not hate his life will lose it,” but if you surrender this life to the cross of Christ, that seed that was sown at Calvary — one life — will spring up and produce a great tree.  Men and women will come and say, “What a wonderful tree.  How did you manage it?” and you will say, “Not I, but Christ.”

One seed died on Calvary’s cross and the history of that one seed is found in the first four books of the New Testament, called the Gospels.  But that seed sprang up into life in the Christian church and produced a mighty work so that the whole world was shaken at its very foundation.  The record of that tree that grew out of that one seed is called the book of Acts.  Read the book of Acts.  That’s the history of the seed that germinated and produced a great tree:  the Christian church.

Unfortunately, the devil came in and perverted the gospel, from “Not I, but Christ” to “I, plus Christ.”  That mixture, which began with the Galatian church, destroyed the power of the church and the church was plunged into darkness.  Ever since the 16th and 17th Centuries, God has been trying to revive the church by restoring the Gospel.  He began with Martin Luther, and then came the Scientific Method which swept everything, including the Lutheran church, back into Liberalism.  Then He raised John Wesley, and, for a time, the tree began to grow and develop and then it fizzled away again.  Finally, I believe He raised the Advent Movement to lighten this earth with His glory.  We have been in this world too long.

The world is waiting desperately.  I want to give you the sad facts.  When I left East African Union in l982, the membership there was l50,000.  Four years later, when I went to visit my Mother in Kenya, the membership had risen to 275,000.  Then, only a year later, at the General Conference, the report was that they had reached 300,000.  The church in the North American Division is on the decline, and all our money and all our budget and all our technology will not solve the problem.  The only solution is that we must die and let the Holy Spirit take over.  We will grow and I don’t mean only grow numerically.  My greatest concern is not numerical growth.  My greatest concern is spiritual growth, the fruits of which is numerical growth.

It is my prayer that we all will be willing to die and let Christ take over.  It is a costly business but I want to remind you of our study.  You may have to suffer in this world, but, in the end, the wicked will be exterminated and the believers will be established.  Until then, let the Lord live in us and may we all have one goal, “For me to live is Christ.”

For that to happen we must confess with Paul (Galatians 2:20):

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This is the kingdom of God.  It is like a little mustard seed.  It begins small but, when it grows and develops, it overshadows everything else in this world.  This is my prayer for this church, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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