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Mark 4:30-34 Mustard Seed

Posted by Ez1 Realty on December 12, 2012

Mark 4:30-34 NLTse Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? (31) It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, (32) but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” (33) Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. (34) In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.


How can we hope to understand the simple parable about the smallest of all seeds if we do not look back at previous texts to see how and why Jesus led us to this story.


When we pay attention to the poetry or style of writing Mark used, certain patterns will emerge. The first three chapters explain the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. How He chose His disciples, who and where He taught. Mark pointed out why the priests and Pharisees followed Jesus. In short, the first three chapters are an introduction to Jesus’ ministry. There is a distinct change in writing style in chapter 4 which describes Jesus teaching in the first verse, the introduction to the chapter. We can see the lessons Jesus teaches both repeat and build as He teaches one parable after another. One of the key details to look for are the words repeated from one parable to the next, which reveal the lesson Jesus is emphasizing.


Jesus first tells the parable of the sower. Telling this parable from a boat shows how focusing on the words is the key to understanding all parables. Jesus used a number of symbols. Once Jesus quoted scripture, the disciples knew it contained an important lesson. “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven.'”  (Mark 4:11-12 NLTse).   Not being able to understand the parable was evident, so the disciples asked Jesus to explain the meaning to them. Jesus explained, “The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others.” (Mark 4:14 NLTse). Now the disciples knew seed represented God’s Word.


One of the texts which may have come to the disciples memory is found in Isaiah. “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NLTse). This shows the clear spiritual connection between seed, bread and God’s Word. It shows that Jesus did not provide a private interpretation to His parables, but knew the scriptures will explain each symbol he used.


After explaining the parable of the sower, Jesus told His disciples three more parables. If we are not paying attention, it appears the next is out of place because it is about a light. Jesus asks if the light is placed under a basket, bed or on a lamp stand. He explains, “A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine.” Why would Jesus tell a story about a light after the parable of the sower? Was Jesus testing His disciples? Don’t forget, Jesus told the parable of the sower from a boat. We have to pay attention to the words. The most obvious questions would be, what does light represent and is it related to seed, which represents God’s Word?


Jesus told His stories in a specific sequence to teach a set of fundamental lessons on interpretation. Once Jesus established the spiritual meaning of seed, He gave them a new key word to explore, light. As the disciples thought about this new parable, other texts began to explain the spiritual meaning of light. Some may have thought about another text in Isaiah. “Listen to me, my people. Hear me, Israel, for my law will be proclaimed, and my justice will become a light to the nations. Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the LORD rises and appears over you. All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance.” (Isaiah 51:4, 60:2-3 NLTse). While others may have remembered Daniel. “He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light. I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors, for you have given me wisdom and strength. You have told me what we asked of you and revealed to us what the king demanded.” (Daniel 2:22-23 NLTse). They could see why Jesus said, “For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light.” (Mark 4:22 NLTse).


Before Jesus continued with the next parable, He gave them a hint by repeating the spiritual meaning of light over and over again. “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given–and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” (Mark 4:23-25 NLTse).


Now that they could see light represented the understanding of God’s Word, they were ready for the next parable. Again Jesus returned to the theme of a farmer and his seed. This time He tells a simple story.


Mark 4:26-29 NLTse Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. (27) Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. (28) The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. (29) And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”


The disciples of course could see the connection between the parables because Jesus’ interpretation was fresh on their minds. They knew seed represented God’s Word. But we can look much deeper. Look at the parable. It is not really a parable at all. Usually a parable involves unusual circumstances using common elements as seen in the parable of the sower. The fact the farmer was careless with his seed indicated a deeper meaning. But this parable only talks about a simple procedure everyone knows about. A seed is planted. A plant grows and is harvested. How do we know it contains a deeper meaning. There are a number of indications. Look at the way the sentences are constructed. Look at how the words are repeated. First of all notice how Jesus compares a farmer scattering seeds to the Kingdom of God. Notice the word seed is repeated. Also notice how the parable transitions from the word seed to grain (used in this translation). This shows a new word has been introduced. Again we look and another new word is repeated, harvest. Jesus does not dwell on the spiritual harvest at this point, but we know He refers to it in many of His later parables.


Finally Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed:

Mark 4:30-32 NLTse Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? (31) It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, (32) but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”


The first detail we notice is the relationship with the previous parable established by the term Kingdom of God. We also see the word seed repeated again. Knowing seed represents God’s Word gives us the first clue to interpret the parable. But first a lesson in Bible translations. When studying key words, the best translation has always been the King James Version. The people translating the KJV paid particular attention to keys words used throughout the Bible and were very consistent in using the same word throughout the entire translation. We can see the difference in these verses.


Mark 4:30-32 KJV And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? (31) It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: (32) But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.


We see the word comparison repeated with the word compare, which is similar to the word liken. These three words draw attention to the Kingdom of Heaven and the importance it has in the lesson. We also see seed is sown in the earth. We know it is God’s Word being sown, so we see there is a spiritual preparation involved, just like a physical preparation is required before planting physical seed. Three phrases involve growth, which relate to a spiritual growth. We cannot expect to see the an instant change in a person’s life the moment we spread God’s Word. It takes time to grow roots, grow and mature. Once it does, something great can come out of the smallest things we share.


One more word is used in both this parable and the sower. The key word bird, or fowl are used in both. When we look back at the previous texts we find Jesus said birds represent Satan.

Mark 4:4 KJV And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.

Mark 4:15 KJV And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.


But how could Satan lodge in the branches of a plant grown from God’s Word? Does this conflict show another lesson Jesus was teaching? When we find the Old Testament texts revealing the spiritual meaning, it will explain everything.


We all know there are clean birds and unclean. Leviticus 20:25 NLTse “You must therefore make a distinction between ceremonially clean and unclean animals, and between clean and unclean birds. You must not defile yourselves by eating any unclean animal or bird or creature that scurries along the ground. I have identified them as being unclean for you.


The Bible also shows us birds, or fowl are used to represent people.

Psalms 124:7 KJV Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.

Proverbs 6:5 KJV Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.


We can see when the spiritual mustard plant matures, it will attract people. So we can see when even a very small portion of God’s Word is planted in a heart that has been prepared, it will grow and mature, spreading until it reaches maturity. When it does, other people will find security in it. Jesus used a mustard seed to tell a parable about the Christian life and mission.


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