Planting God’s Church: Matthew 13:31-35

Focus Passage: Matthew 13:31-35 (NCV)

31 Then Jesus told another story: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man planted in his field. 32 That seed is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows, it is one of the largest garden plants. It becomes big enough for the wild birds to come and build nests in its branches.”

33 Then Jesus told another story: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and hid in a large tub of flour until it made all the dough rise.”

34 Jesus used stories to tell all these things to the people; he always used stories to teach them. 35 This is as the prophet said:

“I will speak using stories;
    I will tell things that have been secret since the world was made.”

Read Matthew 13:31-35 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Sometime during the middle of Jesus’ ministry, He shares a series of parables that teach about the kingdom of heaven. Some of these parables were long and detailed, while others were short and simple. However, regardless of the length of each parable, a key spiritual truth is conveyed that we can discover if we look carefully.

Our passage includes two short parables, and while both parables are excellent, one contains a key principle that can help shift our mindset and our focus. This principle is found in the first of these to parables, in the one most commonly known as the parable of the mustard seed: “Then Jesus told another story: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man planted in his field. That seed is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows, it is one of the largest garden plants. It becomes big enough for the wild birds to come and build nests in its branches.’” (v. 31-32)

From my earlier studies and analysis of Jesus’ parables regarding the kingdom of heaven, I have learned to look for a character or item that represents God from within the parable. In this parable, we have two options that could represent God.

Our first candidate for representing God is the man who planted the mustard seed. In my mind, this makes the most logical sense. I can see God as planting someone, something, or some idea in order to help it grow. From my experience and observation, it seems as though God likes taking people who are otherwise believed to be insignificant and turning their lives and stories into testimonies that have a much larger impact.

Our second candidate for representing God is the mustard seed that was planted. I don’t think this is as logical, however if it were the case, since God is a Creator, His kingdom is always growing and expanding – which means that it did start small and it has grown ever since. In some ways, this conclusion does make sense, especially when we look at how the mustard plant benefits the wildlife around it.

However, what if the mustard seed represented something different? What if the mustard seed that God planted was a small group of disciples?

Running this idea to its conclusion, we see the group of disciples forming the early church (with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit), and the church has grown ever since. If the mustard seed represents the church then tucked within this parable is a mission and identity for the church – at least the “church” that God planted.

This parable ends by saying that the mustard plant “becomes big enough for the wild birds to come and build nests in its branches.” (v.32b)

With this conclusion, we see that the mustard seed was not planted to produce mustard or because of anything it produces itself. Instead the mustard seed was planted to benefit the creatures that lived near it. The parable specifically mentions wild birds, which could easily mean people who are not God’s followers.  

In this parable, I see a mission that says the church should be known as a place that is safe for outsiders to come; I see a mission that says the church should be a place where people can come to grow closer to God and experience His love; I see a mission that says the church should be a place where people realize that people are broken, hurting, and sin-filled, but that together, we are also united by what God has done for each of us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In this parable, I see a challenge for us to be outward focused and loving like God has loved us.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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