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Parable of the Mustard Seed
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"Another story by way of comparison He set forth before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field. Of all the seeds it is the smallest, but when it has grown it is the largest of the garden herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and find shelter in its branches.” - Matthew 13:31-32, Amplified
Let's take a look at one of Yeshua's parables. First, let's look at when Yeshua started using parables and why.
At the end of the twelfth chapter of Matthew we find the Pharisees accusing Yeshua of driving out demons by the power of Beelzebub (which means “lord of those that fly or flit,” not lord of the flies) - they blasphemed the Holy Spirit. It is after this incident that Yeshua began speaking only in parables when in public. “These things all taken together Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, without a parable He said nothing to them. This was in fulfillment of what was spoken by the prophet: I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things that have been hidden since the foundation of the world.” - Matthew 13:34-35, Amplified. But why speak in parables? In Matthew 13:10-17 we find the answer.
“Then the disciples came to Him and said, Why do You speak to them in parables? And He replied to them, To you it has been given to know the secrets and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has [spiritual knowledge], to him will more be given and he will be furnished richly so that he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is the reason that I speak to them in parables: because having the power of seeing, they do not see; and having the power of hearing, they do not hear, nor do they grasp and understand. In them indeed is the process of fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, which says: You shall indeed hear and hear but never grasp and understand; and you shall indeed look and look but never see and perceive. For this nation's heart has grown gross (fat and dull), and their ears heavy and difficult of hearing, and their eyes they have tightly closed, lest they see and perceive with their eyes, and hear and comprehend the sense with their ears, and grasp and understand with their heart, and turn and I should heal them. But blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) are your eyes because they do see, and your ears because they do hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous men [men who were upright and in right standing with God] yearned to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” - Amplified
So here, Yeshua Himself states that He spoke in parables to keep kingdom truths hidden from those who did not have spiritual knowledge as revealed by the Holy Spirit. Parables then are not stories to help explain or simplify a point so that everyone can understand, as is usually taught.
Now, if I were a betting woman I'd wager that you've heard the parable of the mustard seed taught something like this:
The mustard seed, and subsequent tree, represents the church which is obviously flourishing. In fact, it is so large and so wonderful that even the birds are comfortable and nest in the tree. Warm fuzzies for everyone!
Let's set that aside for now and take a look at a few things that you might not realize. We'll start with the mustard plant. Never having visited Israel, I didn't know until recently that mustard plants are apparently quite common there. The disciples would have been very familiar with them. And they would have known that mustard plants grow to be bushes and not trees - usually around three feet tall, although a few varieties do grow to be almost six feet they are still considered bushes and not trees. This would have been the disciple's first clue that what Yeshua was talking about wasn't quite right. Then Yeshua mentioned the birds.
In the first parable that Yeshua shared and then interpreted (the parable of the sower), He tells the disciples that the birds of the air are agents of the evil one. If we look at Scripture, there is consistency when symbolism is used. We have no reason to believe there would be an exception here, nor to believe that Yeshua would have used the same symbol to mean two completely opposite things. We must therefore take His previous explanation for the birds of the air and use that to interpret the meaning of the birds in this mustard seed parable. (I also find it very interesting that it was the Pharisees' accusation that Yeshua was driving out demons in the name of Beelzebub that triggered His teaching in parables, and here in two of the parables Yeshua portrays agents of the devil as birds - things that fly.) Now, let's take another look at this parable.
First, we have a mustard plant that should be the size of a bush, but has grown into a tree - something abnormal. Next we have the birds of the air, which are agents of the evil one, and they are comfortable and nesting in this abnormal tree. I don't know about you, but that makes me feel rather uncomfortable about what Yeshua seems to be trying to tell us about the state of the church. Could He actually mean that His body would become larger in size than “normal,” in fact so large and abnormal that agents of the evil one would feel right at home in the church? I think that's exactly what He was saying.
If you look at the church today as a whole, there are some truly disturbing things taking place within its boundaries. In many traditional denominations there are movements towards accepting and condoning sinful behavior rather than loving the person but hating the sin. Openly homosexual individuals are being ordained as ministers. Other individuals are being ordained as ministers with head-knowledge of the Bible and theology but without having a real, personal relationship with Christ. They teach from the Bible and make lovely illustrations, but never preach the good news of salvation through the sacrifice Christ made on the cross - salvation that they do not themselves possess. The apostle Paul addressed a similar situation that cropped up in the church in Corinth: “But [now] I am fearful, lest that even as the serpent beguiled Eve by his cunning, so your minds may be corrupted and seduced from wholehearted and sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For [you seem readily to endure it] if a man comes and preaches another Jesus than the One we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the [Spirit] you [once] received or a different gospel from the one you [then] received and welcomed; you tolerate [all that] well enough! Yet I consider myself as in no way inferior to these [precious] extra-super [false] apostles.” - II Corinthians 11:3-5, Amplified
Today we can clearly see the results of this same preaching of another Jesus and preaching of a different gospel. Far too many churches are filled with Christians in name only, for they live in the political correctness of our society and know not the One who died for them. Churches are led by those who embrace philosophies and lifestyles that God clearly condemns as sin in the Bible, and they are leading their flocks astray. Well-intentioned “Christians” think that getting into heaven is done by a system of good works and religious acts and have never heard of the freeing grace, mercy and salvation of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
In many passages of the New Testament we see warnings of times when those would come into the church with doctrines other than the doctrine that Scripture declares. Here are just a few:
“But the [Holy] Spirit distinctly and expressly declares that in latter times some will turn away from the faith, giving attention to deluding and seducing spirits and doctrines that demons teach, through the hypocrisy and pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared (cauterized), who forbid people to marry and [teach them] to abstain from [certain kinds of] foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and have [an increasingly clear] knowledge of the truth. For everything God has created is good, and nothing is to be thrown away or refused if it is received with thanksgiving.” - I Timothy 4:1-4, Amplified
“For the bishop (an overseer) as God's steward must be blameless, not self-willed or arrogant or presumptuous; he must not be quick-tempered or given to drink or pugnacious (brawling, violent); he must not be grasping and greedy for filthy lucre (financial gain); but he must be hospitable (loving and a friend to believers, especially to strangers and foreigners); [he must be] a lover of goodness [of good people and good things], sober-minded (sensible, discreet), upright and fair-minded, a devout man and religiously correct, temperate and keeping himself in hand. He must hold fast to the sure and trustworthy Word of God as he was taught it, so that he may be able both to give stimulating instruction and encouragement in sound (wholesome) doctrine and to refute and convict those who contradict and oppose it [showing the wayward their error]. For there are many disorderly and unruly men who are idle (vain, empty) and misleading talkers and self-deceivers and deceivers of others. [This is true] especially of those of the circumcision party [who have come over from Judaism]. Their mouths must be stopped, for they are mentally distressing and subverting whole families by teaching what they ought not to teach, for the purpose of getting base advantage and disreputable gain.” - Titus 1:7-11, Amplified
“But also [in those days] there arose false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among yourselves, who will subtly and stealthily introduce heretical doctrines (destructive heresies), even denying and disowning the Master Who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their immoral ways and lascivious doings; because of them the true Way will be maligned and defamed.” - II Peter 2:1-2, Amplified
In another parable Yeshua seems to clarify His point of the evil and righteous living together in the kingdom of God. We'll take a look at that next time. Until then, keep your eyes on the Lord and your nose in the Word!
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