“Jesus said, ‘How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.’
Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. 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.” – Mark 4:30-34
We skipped over the parable of the mustard seed in between the last two weeks of this sermon series. While many of us may be familiar with it, I think this parable is worth a second look.
If you recall, John Piper’s definition for the kingdom of God does not reference a physical kingdom but His reign, His sovereign action. At this point, Jesus had already given one explanation for what the kingdom of God is like, but He then followed it up with a question.
It’s an interesting tactic. He throws a question out to His listeners before He proceeds with an additional explanation. In presenting a question rather than immediately giving them the answer in the form of a parable, He starts the minds of the disciples churning with their responses. Two possible scenarios result – one, He creates an audience hungry for His answer and two, He leaves them dumbfounded because they were so focused on their own responses that they did not listen to His answer.
But this is exactly why Jesus used parables for teaching. As the study note in my Bible says for Mark 4:34 – “Jesus used parables to illustrate truths, stimulate thinking and awaken spiritual perception.” I do not believe His intent was to convert groups of people en masse. His intent was to take that tiny seed that was ripe for fertilization in a few listeners’ hearts, those hungry for His answer, and give it something to help the seed flourish, grow and begin to produce fruit.
Those who heard Him and understood became seeds that began to grow. Those who were too captivated by their own thoughts to hear Him still had some preparation to do in their own hearts in order to hear His message. And if you look in verse 34, Jesus took the time to attend to help ready their hearts to hear, see and understand Him. He understood where some of His disciples were at in their faith and made a point of working them closer to having hearts hungry for His answers.
As this was true in the early days of Jesus’ ministry, so it is true today. Church, Christ’s Church, was never intended to simply convert men and women. It is a place, or actually a people made to build men and women up – to take the steps necessary to encourage, edify and grow each other from wherever you might be in your faith so that we all might not have heads clogged with our own swirling thoughts but have hearts hungry for His Word.