“And He said, ‘How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR can NEST UNDER ITS SHADE.’” Mark 4.30-32
What encouragement there is in this parable of Jesus! Encouragement for small churches. Encouragement for their pastors. Encouragement for daily Christian living … in which we are usually trying to serve the Lord in fairly mundane situations, and sharing the good news with people usually in ones and twos. Encouragement for moms who sometimes feel like their only significant evangelistic opportunities are those that happen in their own home, among the same little gaggle of kids with whom they spoke of Jesus yesterday, too (and the day before that).
So much of what we do for the Lord doesn’t seem all that spectacular, does it? We share Christ with a co-worker here or there. We sit down, once more, for family worship with our children. We pack and pray over a shoebox. We post a verse of scripture on Facebook. We attend a small church. And so it may often seem like we’re not really accomplishing all that much for Jesus. But the parable of the mustard seed reminds us that advances in God’s kingdom do not always come with a thunderclap for emphasis!
“The kingdom of God … is like a mustard seed.” And thus, when you see it in its seed form, initial appearances might not lead you to expect it to mushroom into something great. That was certainly the case with Jesus’ first disciples. Just a handful of them – and in some ways, a little bit rag tag. But look at what they eventually became; and what has become of the church over these last two millennia! The people of God may still be a minority … but when you consider our beginnings, the advance of the kingdom has been spectacular!
And so it often will be with the little enclaves and outposts of the kingdom scattered hither and yon across the modern landscape. Someone might walk into one of our church services, and think that it is quite noble that we continue to gather, even with so small a group of people, and so little influence on the community around us. But they may not expect any great advances in the kingdom of God from such a small collection of everyday folks! And they might think the same if they sat in on our family devotions, or attended one of our Backyard Bible Clubs, or listened in on our prayer meeting. And yet who knows what God may do with our little mustard seed? Who knows what people groups may be reached for Christ through a few missionaries God might be raising up in this little church? Who knows but that, after years of slow and steady witness, the Holy Spirit might one day break a dam in our city, so that dozens of new faces suddenly begin cramming into our pews to listen to us “give an account for the hope that is in” us. Or who knows how a couple more generations of faithfulness in our little church might more slowly blossom us into a larger congregation that is able to have a significant voice for Jesus in our community? Or maybe we remain small ... but have an impact on the growth and flourishing of God's kingdom in some way that we haven't yet imagined!
This is how mustard seeds work, isn’t it? And that is how we should “picture the kingdom of God.”
Small seeds can become great flourishing plants. Let us pray that it may be so with our own churches, and families, and personal witness for Christ!