Jesus said: “[The kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
The Lord God loves His earthly creation. When He caused it to exist, He declared it to be “very good.” This was so, when the Lord God commanded the earth to bring forth vegetation of all kinds and to produce fruit according to its kind. And so when the Lord God speaks about the spiritual institution that He creates by speaking His Word, it is possible for Him to use the earthly creation to describe it. That you heard this morning, as the Lord God’s words were spoken to you, speaking about the Church to which you belong.
Jesus’ second parable that you heard—the Parable of the Mustard Seed—is a depiction of the Church. It is a restating of a parable told by the Prophet Ezekiel. And to understand Jesus’ words, it helps to know what the Old Testament prophet had said centuries before. Listen again to what the Lord God said to His people centuries before the Son of God took flesh and dwelt among us: “I Myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I Myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of
The Lord God’s message was given to His people about to be exiled to
But the Lord God does not abandon His people. He promises them redemption and deliverance: not a political restoration, but a preservation of their identity as His own. He pledges to them a reversal of fortune which a Redeemer would bring. Out of their line, from the remnant of
And so when the Christ appears, He speaks the same way. For His presence is meant to accomplish and fulfill what the Lord God had promised in the Old Testament. The Christ will bring a
This reception of the word is described in Jesus’ first parable that you heard: a farmer sows seed into the ground, the seed sprouts, and a fruitful plant appears. Here Jesus speaks in agrarian terms about the message of salvation that is proclaimed in the world. The plants in this parable represent people—like you—who have received the Gospel of Christ and believed it. You have become part of the kingdom of God, just as Luther speaks about in His Small Catechism: “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” Your reception of the Gospel delivers the Holy Spirit to you, so that you believe in Christ’s works for your salvation and then lead lives according to His will. So you are made “very good” by the Lord God, made pleasing to Him, as
But Jesus takes the people back to the Old Testament to speak about the nature of His kingdom. He reminds them of what the Prophet Ezekiel said about an institution which will be most cosmopolitan: “[The kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Jesus speaks of the people who believe His words about His identity and trust in His works for their salvation. The Christ describes what will happen as His salvific mission is fulfilled.
Jesus says that the mustard seed is “the smallest of all the seeds on earth.” It is insignificant, unimpressive. It can be discarded by a person, almost without noticing it. But this is how Jesus describes His Church. It was small like a mustard seed. Think of who followed Jesus when He spoke these words: a motley crew of fishermen, tax collectors, political activists, and some of their relatives. Traveling around
But the Parable of the Mustard Seed doesn’t stop with the description of seed size. Remember what Jesus says about the mustard seed: “When it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” This is also how Jesus describes His Church. The past two Sundays, you have heard of how the Lord God’s people here on earth did not remain just a dozen people of Galilean descent. You heard how Jesus’ apostles received the commission “to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name” to people of all ethnicities. You also heard the events of Pentecost which brought the words and works of Christ to Parthians, Medes, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, and so on. The
So you also have found a place in the tree of Christ. You have received the words and works of Christ. You are among the birds in Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed. It is so, because you are like the ground in Jesus’ Parable of the Seed. The seed of the Gospel has been planted in you, delivered by the proclamation of the apostolic message, reception Holy Baptism, participation in Christ’s Holy Supper, and the conversation of those already in the Church. Through that seed, the Holy Spirit has worked in you, bringing forth faith and the fruits of faith. So the
But one other item must be kept in mind. The description of the Church’s significance in Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed is not an earthly measure of significance. The Lord God’s people will indeed do great things in this world. But that is not how its greatness is measured. Rather, the Church’s greatness is found in being the people who have received the grace and mercy of the Lord God and have His divine work done in them. It is a greatness found in having the words and works of Christ brought to you and believed by you, so that you have are found to be pleasing to Him. It is a greatness found in having “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” with the people of every tribe, race, nation, and language. So whether the Church on earth is 1 billion people or 1 million or even 1 thousand, the Lord God still calls it “very good.”
The sowing and planting in the parables still goes on today. The message of Christ’s words and works is being proclaimed; and your mouths can speak it. More birds of all sorts are finding their shelter from sin, death, and Satan in the shade of Christ’s tree: the mustard tree of the parable and the tree of
But such activity is not just for new believers: it is the continued work of the Holy Spirit done in your lives. You must receive that work, so that the Psalmist’s agrarian description of the Lord God’s people may apply to you: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Continue to receive the message of Christ’s words and works in its aural and visible forms, and this shall be so for you. The Holy Spirit given to you as a guarantee of everlasting life will produce the fruits of faith in you. And you shall be pleasing to the Lord God who redeems sinners and makes them His people, the One who calls His creation, the Church, “very good.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.