The Pattern of the Mustard Seed

The secret of the Kingdom belongs to those who—when puzzled by their Teacher’s cryptic and confusing manner of instruction—possess the boldness and humility to ask what He means.1

But can we inquire of Him from whom we have not heard? Certainly not! Let us, then, first listen intently to the Teacher, and let us consult the Teacher within—the Spirit who reveals all truth:2

Again [Jesus] 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 of all seeds on earth.

Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, 

with such big branches 

that the birds can perch in its shade.”3

The Limits of Human Perception in the Pursuit of Truth

The Kingdom-seed Jesus speaks of follows a pattern typical of divine action: God uses that which humans dismiss and despise to accomplish His purposes—be it a younger brother4 or a stuttering spokesman;5 a prostitute6 or a siege tower made of trumpets;7 a pagan prophet8 or a Prophet from Galilee, of all places.9

The smallest of seeds becomes the tallest of trees. On the Day each builder’s work is made visible,10 that which humans perceive to be insignificant will prove to be of great value; the last will be first.11

The problem of human perception makes the life of discipleship difficult. In an age of unbelief, many will count us as weak fools.12 So be it; human approval is not a hallmark of our validity. “Let God be true, and every human being a liar.”13

We who embody the pattern of the mustard seed can endure every manner of derision and scorn. For even if others wish to mock us and beat us and nail us to crosses, we will nonetheless receive our reward of resurrection life.

It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. 

It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.14


1. See e.g., Matthew 15:15; Mark 4:10-11, 34

2. John 16:13; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16; Ephesians 1:15-23.

3. Mark 4:30-32 NIV.

4. See e.g., Genesis 4:1-5; 17:18-21; 25:23; 1 Samuel 16:6-13.

5. Exodus 4:10-12; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

6. See Joshua 2; 6:17, 22-25; Hebrews 11:31.

7. Joshua 6

8. Numbers 22-24.

9. John 7:52; cf. John 1:46.

10. 1 Corinthians 3:13; cf. Luke 12:2-3

11. Matthew 20:16

12. 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; cf. John 10:20; Acts 26:242 Corinthians 10:9-11; Psalm 22:6-8; Lamentations 3:14.

13. Romans 3:4 NIV

14. 1 Corinthians 15:43 ESV

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