“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)
Ray Stedman — well-known pastor and respected Bible teacher at Peninsula Bible Church, Palo Alto, California in the 1970s and ‘80s — had a bold interpretation of this parable of Jesus. He pointed out that the mustard plant does not become a tree. It is mostly a low-lying plant that grows about 2 or 3 feet high and fills a hillside with beautiful yellow flowers. In some cases it can get up to 5 or 6 feet tall, but even then, it does not have branches that would support birds or bird’s nests. Its growth is not upward and sturdy, it is outward and fragile. Vulnerable might be a good word.
Therefore, if this is true, then this parable is talking about abnormal growth. That makes sense. Certainly the church for about 15 centuries after Christ grew into a huge institutional structure that housed all kinds of evil. Not the low-lying quiet influence that spread outward across the land, but the dominant political institutional structure that vied for control with kings and queens. People were beheaded, tortured and burned at the stake for heresy. And the definition of heresy flip-flopped every few years depending on who was in power. It wasn’t pretty. It was nothing like beautiful yellow flowers, spreading out across a field and waving in the wind (though I’m sure there were remnants of true believers everywhere).
The main lesson here is that the influence of the kingdom of God is not going to come from alliances with human, earthly seats of power. These are dangerous, ill-used and result in warped and false representations of the truth of the gospel. The influence of the kingdom of God comes through individuals like you and me, moving out into the marketplace and taking up our places in the world. It’s low-lying and it’s outward. Call it mustard seed faith, if you will.
It is very important that we understand this here in American especially now as we are on the brink of a very divisive, controversial election. As citizens of this country, we need to all get out and use our representative privilege to vote intelligently and with the choices we think are the best, given the limitations of human endeavor and susceptibility of individuals to evil. Vote your best choice; vote your conscience, but keep in mind that there is not a Christian political party, nor is there a certain Christian agenda that embodies the whole counsel of the word of God, nor will we all vote the same way because of this. This is actually a good thing because no human institution can represent the kingdom of God except the church of Jesus Christ — and by that I mean the church universal made up of believers all over the world, not just a coalition of American Christians who all think alike.
I’ve always wondered why the parables of the Kingdom almost all have some evil influences present. You’ve got birds (the devil) snatching up the seed that doesn’t fall on good soil, you have the weeds with the wheat, the good fish with the bad fish, and yeast spread in with the dough. I thought this was supposed to be the Kingdom of Heaven?
I think the only clear interpretation of this is the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven on earth is going to be operating in the presence of evil and evil forces. It’s going to be a battle. We must be on guard. We can’t just hide inside the four walls of the church and think we will be insulated from any evil influences. Not true. Evil influences are everywhere and we have seen this over and over again as pastors and church leaders have fallen prey to the wiles of the devil. So we don’t get a break here. You don’t get to be spiritually lazy.
So be on guard. Be a student of the Word. Surround yourself with believers you can trust because they share the whole truth about themselves. And don’t just blindly follow anybody. Follow the Lord, and check out your leaders and mentors by the Scriptures the way the Bereans checked out Paul — to make sure he was on track with the Word of God.
And keep looking for the Kingdom God. The kingdom of God flies under the radar. It is not always easy to detect. If you hear someone announcing “The Kingdom of God is here,” or “It’s over there,” they are probably wrong. Look for that low-lying mustard plant, the result of a steady, committed mustard seed faith that works its way into all sectors of society, bringing the Kingdom of God through individual followers of Christ like you and me, not by way of any politics of power.