Mustard Seed Theology

Matthew 13:31-32

The parable of the mustard seed, which Jesus shares, teaches us precious truths that every believer can cling to with hope. Have you ever worried that your faith is wimpy and weak, not strong enough to do you any good? Have you ever worried that the questions percolating in your soul might undo you? The parable of the mustard seed, which Jesus shares, teaches us precious truths that every believer can cling to with hope. Have you ever worried that your faith is wimpy and weak, not strong enough to do you any good? Have you ever worried that the questions percolating in your soul might undo you?

Remember the man who brought his son, who was possessed by an evil spirit, to Jesus? The spirit would throw the boy to the ground causing him to foam at the mouth. He’d be struck mute and stiffen out in his body. The father pleaded with Jesus, “If you can do anything to help us, have pity on us.”

Jesus, almost with indignation said, “If I can? Haven’t I told you – ‘ALL things are possible to him who believes’?”

Then the father confessed this classic line, “I do believe. Help my unbelief.” Have you ever prayed that prayer?

Have you ever prayed,
Lord God, I do believe, but the day is so dark, and I’m struggling with doubt. 
Lord Jesus, I do believe your promises but I have questions that enter my mind. 
I do believe; help my unbelief.

Mustard seed faith knows it’s not the size of our faith that is most important, but the One in whom our faith rests. It is not the purity of our faith but the fact that our faith rests in the all powerful Lord Jesus Christ who loves us.

Jim Bjorge, an eloquent preacher, told the story years ago of a man traveling by foot in early winter in the state of Minnesota. In his travels, he came to a wide river. The man simply did not know if the ice was thick enough or therefore safe to bear his weight. His first few tentative steps on the ice, his heart was thumping in his chest. He was literally shaking in fear! Then the ice cracked under his feet, and he sprawled flat on his belly on the ice, afraid he would go through. While he was lying there cheek to the ice, he heard the sound of sleigh bells, and around the bend of the river came a team of huge horses with the driver guiding a sleigh filled with huge logs cut from the woods. Yes, the ice was thick enough to bear his weight.

Sometimes we’re afraid Jesus can’t take care of us. Sometimes our faith is shaky and wimpy, and we don’t know if we’re okay. It’s not the size of our faith that matters, but the fact that our faith trusts in the all-powerful Jesus, the Lover of our soul. So whatever measure of faith you have, invest it in Jesus.

The second truth from this parable of the mustard seed is, when faith trusts God’s power, God brings new life into our spirit. All of us, as human beings, need God’s renewal. He keeps His word. In II Corinthians 5 it says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Radio preacher Vernon McGee once told a memorable story about a woman who lived in the deep South and had a close relationship with her childhood sweetheart, John. The woman found love with the man and ultimately married him. While their life together wasn’t perfect, they had many moments of wonderful joy in their marriage.

Suddenly, tragically, her beloved husband died of a heart attack. The woman simply couldn’t part with her late husband so she decided to have him embalmed. She placed him sitting up in a chair and sealed him in a glass case. Then she placed John immediately inside the front door of her large southern plantation home. This way she could be with her husband every day. She’d enter the door, smile and say, “Hi, John. How are you?” and then go about, pretending he still shared life with her. This went on for more than a year.

One day she decided to take a lengthy vacation to Europe. It would be a delightful change of scenery for her. While she was in Europe, she met a fine gentleman also on vacation. They had a whirlwind romance, fell in love, got married, and honeymooned all over Europe. All during that time, the woman said nothing about old John back on the plantation.

Finally, they traveled to the United States and journeyed into the woman’s plantation, which would now be their home. As they were driving up the winding road, the husband decided he was going to carry his new bride over the threshold. This would be the beginning of their home together and their new life forever. He picked her up, bumped the door open with his hip and walked right in. However, he almost dropped his bride when he saw old John sitting in his chair. “Who is this?” the new husband asked.

Well, that’s John, my husband from my former . . .

“He’s history!” said her new husband. “He is dead!” Then he buried old John, case and all.

Sometimes, in our faith journey, we continue to keep the remnants of our old nature, of our old life, and we rationalize its continued presence as if we need it somehow to comfort or sustain us. We develop what I sometimes call a “BC” mindset. A before-Christ lifestyle, a before-Christ attitude, a before-Christ behavior, rhythm in our life so that, even though faith has fallen in love with Jesus and we’ve come to believe in and take to heart all God has done for us through Christ, we’re still living BC – before Christ.

Jesus was raised from the dead so He might live in the hearts of all His people. The kingdom of God spreads when Jesus reigns in the heart of His believers. He gives us new life. Jesus gives us the power of the Holy Spirit who not only lives inside us, but also comforts, guides, and controls us in our discipleship journey. Mustard seed faith brings new life. It also teaches us that little becomes much, small becomes huge. A tiny seed like a mustard becomes a 10-foot high shrub tree that the birds of the air come and nest in.

Nancy Cornish, in The Upper Room devotional booklet, tells the story of when she was a child she heard the tap, tap of a cane on the sidewalk in a small community in which she lived. An old man in town, bent from years, his rough, knotted hand purposefully clutching his cane as he walked. This old man had a peculiar custom as he roamed the streets of this small town. When saw a child, he’d reach into his pocket and give them a picture of Jesus Christ. He’d thrust it into the child’s hand and continue on his way, not even saying a word.

The small act of this old man’s kindness made a world of difference to Nancy. She later came to a faith in Jesus Christ, and she realized in her adult faith that the small seed of kindness and witness the old man had done in giving her a picture of Jesus was the beginning of what God used to bring faith alive in her soul. That picture of Jesus, with a sheep and a river running through a pasture, with the old man’s shaky handwriting saying Psalm 23, was the foundation of her faith that came alive. Little can become much, and small can become huge.

Who would think a carpenter’s son, born to a young girl in the poor town of Nazareth, would be God’s Messiah? Who would think a band of twelve men and a few women would grow to become the beginning of the Christian Church and the message of the Gospel would spread to every country and culture and race in our world? And who would think the little seed of faith, when you and I first heard the message of Jesus, would come alive, take root in our faith, and grow to give a perspective of our whole journey of life, because Jesus is life.

Mustard seed faith also teaches us that we build the kingdom of God by faith. As we share our faith and our love for Christ with others, we need patience. We need to trust the Holy Spirit. We need to allow time for it to unfold, for those planted seeds to take root. Many of you are farmers, and you know you don’t plant your seed into the black soil of your fields one day and expect to harvest the mature crop a week later. It takes time.

I love a quote by Alfred Schweitzer, a missionary to Africa, “No ray of sunlight is ever lost, but the green it awakens takes time to sprout, and it is not always given the sower to see the harvest. All work, if worth anything, is done in faith.”

I know a father who prayed every day for his son over decades of time. His son, though a good young man, was a prodigal spiritually – defiant, rebellious against God and the Church. Many years later, after decades of prayer, the son came to his dying father’s bedside and said, “Dad, I want you to know, I prayed to ask Jesus to forgive me and come into my life. It’s not only the way you prayed for me daily, it was your authentic way of showing love to all people that convinced me Jesus is real and needs to be the center of my life.”

People of God, don’t give up. Keep praying. Persevere in doing good. The kingdom of God is built by faith.

The next truth from this mustard seed parable is the kingdoms of this world will eventually give way to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. When we look at world events today – war between nations, governments, political leaders, and powers, it sure does not look like the kingdom of Jesus Christ will be winning. But the Word of God promises us that, in the end, the kingdom of Jesus Christ will be the last. He will rule. Like it says in Revelation, the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of our Christ, and He will reign forever and ever. Jesus will rule the world – not by military might, nor by wealth, nor human intelligence. God’s power will rule the world in the name of Jesus in a kingdom founded on grace.

The final precious truth from the parable of the mustard seed is God’s presence and power become every believer’s safe place. It says in Jesus’ parable that the birds of the air all come to build their nests in the tree that began as the tiniest seed, the mustard seed. Jesus is our safe place, our hiding place. Remember how it reads in Psalm 61 – “Hear my cry, O God. Give heed to my prayer. To the ends of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock, which is higher than I, for you are my refuge. You are my tower of strength against my enemies. Let me take refuge in the shelter of your wings.”

Several years ago, National Geographic magazine provided an interesting story. After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers began their trek up the mountain to assess the inferno’s damage. One of the rangers found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched statuesquely on the ground at the base of the tree. It was an eerie sight. When the ranger knocked the bird over with a stick, three tiny chicks scurried from under the dead mother’s wings. That loving mother bird, keenly aware of impending danger had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and gathered them under her wings. Instinctively she knew the toxic smoke would rise. The mother could’ve saved herself. She could’ve flown to safety, but she had refused to abandon her babies. And when the blaze arrived and the heat singed her small body, the mother remained steadfast. She had been willing to die in sacrifice so her babies, under the cover of her wings, would live.

The birds of the air come and nest and rest in the branches of the kingdom of God. What God has done for us in Jesus Christ is our safe place, our protection. When I approach life’s challenges and problems, when I walk in a way that is dark, when I am filled with guilt and regret, I can run to the Lord my God for refuge because Jesus has gone to the cross. Jesus has died in our place. Jesus has taken our guilt and sin upon Himself, and now He spreads His loving power over us like a protection. Jesus is our safe place.

I pray you have mustard seed faith, and you know it’s not the size of your faith but the power of the Lord Jesus Christ that is our hope. Amen.

Rev. Lee Laaveg