Hidden beneath the parable of the humble mustard seed lies a foundational truth which many Christians are unaware of. So what exactly is Jesus trying to say to us and how can it revolutionize our lives?
Do you know what it is like to have a storm raging in your life? That feeling of being thrown up and down, up and down, side to side from point a to point b over and over again? In this life we are not exempt from troubles, difficult times or the storms which rage physically, emotionally, financially, relationally or religiously. Each one of us faces conflict, pain, frustration, panic, fear, failure and the like but often when we are experiencing those things we lose sight of God in all of it.
We become trapped on the waves in our little boat of our life, calling, ministry and purpose and with all of the rain and wind trying to knock us over into the water it is easy to believe that God isn’t with us. We look at the storms of life and assume they are God’s judgments, or that He forgot to protect us that day or they are the consequences of meaningless actions like forgetting to pray at the same time everyday. It’s almost like the Christian equivalent to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but we instead apply it to God and call Him the Ornery Careless Destroyer. Where if we get the slightest thing in our life out of place or we miss a devotional time (or heaven forbid Sunday service) God will come with a mighty storm to blow our house away, and the rest of the town with it.
We look at the storms of life and assume they are God’s judgments, or that He forgot to protect us that day
We see the winds and waves and forget about not only God but His love and goodness, we feel the rain on our face and forget the very nature of God. We see things around us rise up to terrify or obstruct us and we forget that there is a way out, but we have to look up, high above the storm.
Terror on the High Seas
The disciples went through this very experience, in the early days of Jesus’s ministry they had witnessed countless miracles, demonstrations of authority, and acts of divine power in action. But one fateful night came about where after a long day of preaching and miracles Jesus had the disciples (and some others) set out on the lake in boats to cross it during the night. We can’t forget here that several of the disciples were experienced fishermen who grew up on this very lake, but that upbringing didn’t do much to help them that night.
Let’s turn to the gospel of Mark to see how this story plays out, I’m using The Passion Translation’s interpretation of this encounter because I want it to challenge how you normally read through this story.
Mark 4:35-41 “35 Later that day, after it grew dark, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” 36 After they had sent the crowd away, they shoved off from shore with him, as he had been teaching from the boat, and there were other boats that sailed with them. 37 Suddenly, as they were crossing the lake, a ferocious tempest arose, with violent winds and waves that were crashing into the boat until it was all but swamped. 38 But Jesus was calmly sleeping in the stern, resting on a cushion. 39 So they shook him awake, saying, “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are all about to die!” Fully awake, he rebuked the storm and shouted to the sea, “Hush! Calm down!” All at once the wind stopped howling and the water became perfectly calm. 40 Then he turned to his disciples and said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Haven’t you learned to trust yet?” 41 But they were overwhelmed with fear and awe and said to one another, “Who is this man who has such authority that even the wind and waves obey him?”” (TPT)
What happened here in this encounter? The disciples (and other boats) were facing a raging storm in the middle of lake Galilee and they feared for their lives. As I said these aren’t all land-lovers, but many were hardened fishermen who were that fearful of the storm they were encountering. You can’t blame them it was pitch black outside, there was no coast guard to come rescue them and there was a legitimate chance that they could drown before ever reaching the shore line.
The people were afraid of what was raging around them, but Jesus on the other hand was calmly sleeping in the back of the boat on his fluffed out pillow. What did Jesus know that the others didn’t, what separated Jesus’s reaction from that of the disciples. Was it that Jesus was a really sound sleeper or was there something else at work?
I know it’s easy for us today on the other side of this storm to look back and ridicule the disciples for their actions. We weren’t there but we assume that we would know better, just like we would know better about feeding the 5,000 or the interpretation of many of the parables. Yet we say and believe those things but we make the very same mistakes under different names. We are still just as susceptible to reacting the same way the disciples did in our own lives and in our own circumstances.
We are still just as susceptible to reacting the same way the disciples did in our own lives and in our own circumstances.
I know what natural storms look like, I grew up in Southern Manitoba and throughout the summers I’ve experienced many massive thunder storms. The kind where the thunder shakes the walls of your house, where the rain is pouring sideways instead of downward, and where gusts of wind would snap massive trees like tooth picks. I’ve seen black skies in the middle of the afternoon, I’ve run from golf ball sized hail pelting me on my walk home and I’ve seen the sky resemble spider webs made out of lightning. Those storms were real, they were fierce, they were destructive and they were the same kind of storms that Jesus took a cat nap in.
Natural Storms Don’t Shake Heaven
We have to first realize that the storms which blow in the natural have no effect on the spiritual realm or heaven. There won’t ever be a lightning bolt so fierce that it singes Jesus’s royal robes. No amount of water can ever flood out the heavenly holy of holies, and the angels won’t be left homeless because of a forest fire. It sounds cruel but we must remember that our problems aren’t really God’s problems, however because of His love for us He does respond and bring us assistance.
A hurricane has no effect on heaven but He can and does at times calm those storm to protect his people whom He loves. We have to understand that God is not always responsible for the storms which come into our life or the lives of others. Yet through grace and covenant God has taken a responsibility over out lives. We just need to trust Him enough to follow through on His nature and love for us.
God is not always responsible for the storms which come into our life or the lives of others.Yet through grace and covenant God has taken a responsibility over out lives.
Jesus slept well because He knew the Father was watching over Him as His body rested. The apostles did not feel that way, they saw the natural storm threatening them and assumed that Jesus’ power was limited and that He didn’t truly care about. In that instant they assumed that Jesus lead them into the wilderness of the waters to die. They reacted the same way the people of Israel did when they wrongly accused and complained against God and Moses while in the wilderness.
You see great and mighty works can only produce so much faith in a person’s heart, the real foundation of our faith comes from trust and relationship. One can see a miracle and not know God’s nature or love and continue thinking and believing the same way they did before. Real change comes when a person has a revelation of who God is, the calmer of storms, the protector of lives, the shepherd of lost sheep and the glorifier of broken dreams.
Miracles are good but they are not the foundation of our relationship with God, Christ is, atonement is, covenant is, repentance is, new life is. You should desire to see God move in miracles, healing, prophecy and such but remember those are simply the decorations on the tree of our life with Christ. When we realize that then it becomes easier to sustain our hope in the middle of a storm, where all the light is gone and the memory of past miracles and victories become a mirage clouded by the pouring rain and screeching thunder before us.
Why Are You Still Afraid Of The Storm?
Let’s take another look at Mark 4:40 in various translation to make sure we see clearly what Jesus is saying.
TPT: Why are you so afraid? Haven’t you learned to trust yet?
NKJV: Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?
NIV: Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?
AMPC: Why are you so timid and fearful? How is it that you have no faith (no firmly relying trust)?
The discipels had seen Jesus preach, and they had seen the broken people healed miraculously but they still did not know who or what Jesus was. They saw Him as someone who was powerful but limited, they took what they had previously seen and thought “well I guess that’s all he can do.” That is why when they faced the storm they assumed that Jesus was powerless, they had never seen Jesus exert authority over the weather before so why would they assume otherwise. Often we make this same mistake, we limit God by what we have seen with our own lives or in the lives of those close to us. We encounter a new type of storm and become unsure if God really has power and authority over it so we foolishly turn to ourselves for comfort and wisdom. Unfortunately that power and wisdom usually leaves us yelling out the same words the disciples did “don’t you even care that we are all about to die!” We could each replace the word “die” with our own words such as, divorce, bankruptcy, debt, estrangement, ministry, stress, suffer, move, fail, burnout and foreclose. We have to go beyond accusing God of not caring and instead look to Him the same way Jesus did as He napped.
Jesus slept because He trusted His Father, He knew that because God said to cross the lake He would arrive at the other side no matter what happened.
Jesus slept because He trusted His Father, He knew that because God said to cross the lake He would arrive at the other side no matter what happened. Jesus had that assurance that no matter what it looked like outside of the boat, inside there was nothing to fear because God was there in the middle of the storm. God didn’t block the storm but He restrained it so that Jesus would not be harmed. Jesus got wet, but He still slept, and when the fear of the people overwhelmed His time of rest then He proved to them why He was able to be so calm. With a word the storm ended.
What is troubling is that God’s people today no longer have that same type of trust. So it is no surprise why every rogue gust of wind is treated like our own personal apocalypse. No longer do people hold out their hands to God in the storms because they instead begin to worship the storm in the hopes that it will be appeased and move away.
We must always remember that no matter what God is there, but people no longer see Him as good but as the destroyer and hater of all. God protected Jesus on those waters, and because of that protection all those with Him were protected as well, do you think that has changed? Proximity to the Son brings us closer to the Father, the closer you are to Jesus the more unfiltered you begin to see God, and the more God gives to Jesus the more there is which overflows onto us His covenant brothers and sisters.
What is difficult is quenching the storms of the heart because they become ingrained into the identity of people.
Learn this truth: storms are nothing for God to quench, what is difficult is quenching the storms of the heart because they become ingrained into the identity of people. People set up shops and homes in the eye of the storm and a call it a blessed life, but eventually the storm moves on revealing the destruction which has always surrounded them, and eventually their place of safety is also consumed by the clouds.
Sleep Well In Any Storm
Jesus slept well because He knew God was there, he rested in the assurance that the Father was watching over Him. Despite the waves there was no real danger, despite the wind there was no real danger and despite the cries of those around them there was no real danger.
Wind and waves are not signs of God’s abandonment, they are merely casualties of the storm, God’s abandonment comes when people jump out of their boats and try to escape the storm by hiding under the water.
Wind and waves are not signs of God’s abandonment, they are merely casualties of the storm, God’s abandonment comes when people jump out of their boats and try to escape the storm by hiding under the water. There they feel no wind, they see no rain but soon they choke and drown, they drift to the bottom never to arise again because they trusted their own minds and strength rather than trust in God’s goodness and love. That despite the storms we face God is there to guide us home, despite the wind and the waves we will not be toppled over and despite the darkness of the sky there is always light waiting to pierce through (James 1:6).
Psalms 107:28-31 “28 Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, And He brings them out of their distresses. 29 He calms the storm, So that its waves are still. 30 Then they are glad because they are quiet; So He guides them to their desired haven. 31 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!” (NKJV)
Everyone wants a testimony of great faith and perseverance but no one is willing to go through the storm to get it. In the same way people want to see God move through prophecy and miracles but never step out and give God the opportunity. Yes you will go through difficult times, yes you will have seasons where it feels like God is nowhere to be found. Knowing that we have two choices we can either jump out of the boat under our own power and drown, or we can grab our pillow and trust God to bring us through the storm.
You may get wet, your boat may be damaged, you may lose some cargo but you will endure because God is carrying you through. Always remember God will not abandon us if we make room for Him, so follow the model of Jesus who chose to rest in God’s love, character and nature rather than join in on the fear of the people who did not realize who He was or who was watching over that boat.
To go deeper in your journey with Christ check out my new book Understanding Who You Are: A Survey of 21st Century Christian beliefs which is now on sale. Available in paperback (Canada or USA) and eBook! Get your copy today and discover not just your purpose but learn how you can build the Kingdom of God here on the Earth.
Surviving The Storm With Your Pillow Intact Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Podcast Of This Message
If you’ve been in or around church for any length of time you’ve probably heard someone quote the parable of the mustard seed in one context or another. Often it is used when speaking about faith, or prayer, or even the preaching of the gospel. It’s one of those parables and sayings of Jesus that we just seem to take for granted and believe that we already know all there is to know about having faith as a mustard seed. Just because you have a jar of mustard in your fridge doesn’t mean that you understand everything that Jesus was saying in Mark 4:30-32 (see also Matt 13:31-32, Luke 13:18-19), because there is so much more here than you could have ever imagined.
Throughout the gospels we have at least three instances where Jesus uses the humble mustard seed to make a point to the disciples. Since repetition is such a significant means by which God speaks to us through the scriptures (Gen 41:32) we need to pay extra attention to what Jesus is saying about these little seeds. But first let’s look at most recognizable place Jesus talks about mustard seeds:
Mark 4:30-32 “30 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? 31 It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; 32 but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” (NKJV)
What Is A Mustard Tree Anyway?
Through this parable Jesus is trying to explain to the disciples different pictures to describe to them what His Kingdom looks like and how it operates. In this case Jesus choose the smallest of the seeds in the region to show how something so unassuming can grow to be large and important. We look at this story and think that a mustard tree must grow to something large like a cedar, an oak, or even a pine. The thing is most of us have never actually seen a mustard tree, so we tend to imagine other trees we are familiar with when we read this story.
Jesus choose the smallest of the seeds to show how something so unassuming can grow to be large and important.
The reality is though is that it was less of a tree and more of a shrub. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (USA CANADA) speaks of how for the most part this tree was probably only four feet high, although some are able to reach over 12 feet in height. This is far from the picture that most of us think of when we read this story of a mighty tree filled with birds and fruit.
What is also interesting is that mustard trees are annual plants, so every year they die off and have to grow up all over again, it is not a plant which endlessly endures like the might cedar. This need to constantly regrow is probably why Jesus compared the mustard seed to our faith in Matthew 17:20, where he speaks about mustard seed sized faith being able to move mountains. The disciples had just failed to heal a demon oppressed child so they run to Jesus for help, and after healing the child He once again spoke to them about mustard seeds.
This idea of an annual tree and our faith are one in the same, both require constant regrowth, and both are unable to just sit back and relax while waiting for the next season. The mustard tree must grow and drop fresh seeds which will grow the next year. If it doesn’t grow there are no seeds for the next season and eventually there are no more trees in the area. Our faith must be constantly built up through prayer, scripture, relationship with God and going outside our homes and doing either the great commission or the discipling of believers. Faith must be constantly refreshed or one day we will find the garden of our hearts has become barren because we neglected our faith and relationship with God by relying on the cold hard stones of our natural ways.
We must resist the temptation to become complacent in our relationship with God, our prayer lives, our studying of the scriptures and the work we do to spread the gospel and build up the Kingdom. It is a hard thing to say but victories in life don’t produce faith, it is faith which produces victories in our life. When we realize that our faith is like this mustard seed and not a great cedar we can then begin realizing that what you did three years ago won’t benefit you today in what ever situation you may be in. You can’t draw water from a well once and expect that bucket to sustain you for months on end.
Victories in life don’t produce faith, it is faith which produces victories in our life
The Mustard Seed Is Only Doing Its Job
In Luke 17:5-10 Jesus puts an extra spin on his discourse on mustard seeds and trees, here the disciples are asking for their faith to be increased after hearing about their requirement to be forgiving. The disciples were asking for the ability to forgive according to Jesus’s standards and instead get a statement about faith as a mustard seed being able to throw mulberry trees miles away into the sea.
Then Jesus goes on and speaks about how servants are not praised or rewarded for what is expected of them to do. This is quite the contrast, in the same breath Jesus speaks about demonstrating supernatural power and being held responsible to do what the disciples as servants are expected to do; be forgiving in this context.
The mustard seed has one job and one job only, to grow into a shrub so other seeds can be developed and dropped into the ground around it. We as believers also have a singular job, to serve Jesus and see ourselves developed from seeds to trees which can reproduce and see the land around us transform from barren rock to a lush garden. It is our duty to live this way and to serve Jesus in whatever capacity He has called us in.
We can have all of the spiritual power there is but if we are not faithful in living out our lives as Jesus commanded us to then we are still in darkness, and often are doing more harm to the Kingdom than good. When we stand before Jesus we won’t gloat over the number of visions we have seen, or healings we have performed, or the number of books we have written.
No our statement will be “we have done what was our duty to do.” That is how faith works, we serve Jesus and we go out and do what needs to be done so our master is glorified and others can see Him in His true light. Be it through preaching, compassion, miracles, prophecy, service, conversation, leadership, forgiveness, love or any other means.
To accomplish this we must be like mustard trees which must be continually refreshed and regrown so that our seeds never stop being produced. Our faith may begin small as a mustard seed but as Jesus has said it can have immense impact on this world.
But Wait There’s More!
This is where most people stop when they speak about the parable of the mustard seed, we focus just on what it means for us and how we can develop our faith. You see everything we have seen so far is only half of the story. The entire picture about mustard seeds and trees is not just about our faith or what we can do, but it paints a picture of who Jesus is. In all of the instances of the mustard seed Jesus was painting two very different but interconnected pictures. He was teaching us how our faith works but at the same time He was revealing not just the Kingdom but how He was the long-awaited King of the World.
Jesus was not revealing just the Kingdom but how He was the long-awaited King of the World.
We dedicate our lives to being like the servants in Matthew 17:20 not just because of the nice things Jesus has done for us but because He is our King. This isn’t just a theological idea it is reality, by confessing Jesus as your savior and Messiah you have declared Him to be King of Heaven and Earth. In the parable of the mustard seed Jesus was speaking to the disciples who He really was, but today we are oblivious to what Jesus was saying.
A Mustard Flavored Kingdom
Throughout the age of the Old Testament and into the time of Jesus it was a common metaphor to speak of a kingdom as a tree. We see this in scriptures such as Ezekiel 17:22-24, 31:6 Daniel 4:10-12 which use a picture of a tree to describe a nation or a kingdom. The Commentary on the New Testament Use of The Old Testament (USA CANADA) talks about how “Mark 4:30-32 is an ironic fulfillment of Ezekiel 17:23 the lowly annual shrub rather than a might cedar, lamb not a lion maybe. The people expected a mighty cedar, but God came as a lowly shrub which would be exalted over all else.”
The lost message of the Kingdom of God hidden here in the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus the great shrub has come to rule the world. Not a mighty cedar or acacia, or mulberry the humble mustard shrub despite its size and appearance had sprouted and would rule over all. Jesus didn’t come as a superpowered reincarnation of King David, He came as the suffering servant and laid hold of a greater kingdom then anyone of that time ever imagined.
The people and religious leaders were looking for a cedar but got a shrub, so they rejected Him. They were looking for a warrior but got a shepherd, so they persecuted Him. They were looking for an angel of death but got the forgiving Son of God, so they killed Him.
They forgot about Isaiah 11:1 and Jeremiah 23:5-6 where God spoke about a humble branch which was coming to rule and exercise judgment on the people. Jesus executed judgment on sin, He rules over His covenant people and one day He will judge those who rejected His Kingship.
We can’t have the benefits of mustard seed faith until we bow down before the mustard tree of Christ.
We can’t have the benefits of mustard seed faith until we bow down before the mustard tree of Christ. None of what we claim to believe matters at all if Jesus isn’t the King of not just the universe but our individual lives. Our faith doesn’t matter, the miracles we see doesn’t matter the lives we see changed doesn’t matter if Jesus isn’t our King and if we don’t act as grateful adopted servants.
Finding a Nest in His Branches
The last part of the parable has Jesus speaking about the birds of the air making nests in the branches of the fully-grown mustard tree. We take this statement for granted and don’t realize that to the disciples this was ridiculous. You see because the mustard tree regrows every year it can’t be developed enough to be ready for the time when birds make their nests. If one tried the branches would be too small or tender to support just a bird on it let alone a nest.
Here Jesus is again speaking in irony, just as the lowly shrub is King of the forest, so to is this tree which couldn’t before support dwelling places for the birds now be able to provide shelter and covering for them (Daniel 4:12).
We see then that Jesus has come to bring us a covering for our lives and that it is a foundational part of our faith. That covering of grace and atonement is our constant reminder that we can trust Him and remain committed to Him despite the problems of the world. Ezekiel used this same picture of birds finding rest in a tree to describe Egypt in Ezekiel 31:6, so how much grander and wonderous should that covering and shelter be for us who follow Christ our King.
Through faith we are able to go from mustard seeds to mustard trees and see great and mighty things happen in our lives. But we are only able to see such a transformation because Jesus the first seed which fell into the ground then died and came back as a King who has brought us under His covering of atonement. Now as redeemed, adopted servants we go out into the world and deposit new seeds into the ground so the whole world can be covered by the offspring of the great mustard tree.
Question: What can you do today to recognize Jesus as the King of your life?
Faith That Transforms A Mustard Seed Into A Mustard Tree Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
To go deeper in your journey with Christ check out my new book Understanding Who You Are: A Survey of 21st Century Christian beliefs which is now on sale. Available in paperback (Canada or USA) and eBook! Get your copy today and discover not just your purpose but how you can build the Kingdom of God here on the Earth