My favorite Bible stories are Jesus' parables. The parable of the mustard seed might be a simple story told to a group of people well familiar with agricultural practices, but the hidden truths are significant for us two thousand years later.
But what is the actual meaning of the parable? What does a little seed have to do with faith in God?
This parable, along with all the others, are my favorite things to read from the Old Testament. Yes, they can be a bit confusing at times, but once you understand them, they offer great lessons that we can use in our lives today.
The mustard seed parable is an important part of understanding how important and how powerful our faith in Jesus is and can be. It reminds us that we have the power of Jesus within us when we have even a little bit of faith in His power and might.
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The Parable of the Mustard Seed
The mustard seed is mentioned several times by Jesus. He mentions it in parables as well as in an illustration about faith. We will study the parables first and then take a closer look at what he teaches us about faith.
Jesus tells this same parable two times. First in Matthew:
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32 NIV)
Then in Luke:
Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches. (Luke 13:18-19)
(Ok, I do want to point out that most people think of mustard as coming from a plant – which is true. But a mustard plant can actually grow quite large and can be pruned to resemble a mustard tree.)
What is Faith of a Mustard Seed?
One of the most common phrases you hear in Christian circles is “all you need is the faith of a mustard seed.” But what exactly does that mean?
Let’s look at two more verses in which Jesus talks about the mustard seed.
He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. (Luke 17:6)
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)
We can draw the same conclusion from these two verses as from the parable. Faith makes things happen and it grows and spreads.
Have you ever been encouraged by God working in someone else’s life? That is their faith spreading and growing just like the mustard. Their faith planted seeds in your heart.
Or maybe the opposite happened? Your faith planted the seeds in someone else's life that led them to knowing Jesus.
Have you ever faced a difficult situation and prayed your way through it? The act of praying and giving it to God is faith as a mustard seed.
Some people think that you have to be a prayer warrior or be super “religious” for God to use you for His Kingdom. But that simply isn't true! God is able to do the biggest things with someone who has just even the tiniest bit of faith.
I like to think of our Christian family as being birds of the air spreading our seeds of faith and all over the place. A single bird can drop an abundance of seeds throughout its migration path that can bear various types of fruit where they land.
In the same way, someone with just the tiniest bit of faith – maybe even smaller than a grain of mustard seed – can help spread the Gospel of Jesus across the planet!
When you let the Holy Spirit use you and move through you, amazing things can happen!
What Does the Mustard Seed Symbolize?
As you read and study the parable of the mustard seed, it is vital that you understand the importance of that tiny seed.
What exactly does the mustard seed symbolize?
The “kingdom of Heaven” or the “kingdom of God” are used interchangeably. Matthew always uses the expression “kingdom of Heaven” referring to the ancient writing of King David “The Lord is King forever and ever; the nations will perish from his land.” (Psalm 10:16) and “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.” (Psalm 29:10)
Jesus is referring to God’s kingdom here on earth. The one he was sent to establish and eventually rule over. God’s people, His family of believers, or His church are the kingdom of God.
The mustard seed symbolizes Jesus establishing his kingdom. This kingdom begins with 12 disciples. Twelve dedicated followers of Christ.
The first chapter of Acts tells us that there was a group of 120 that met together “constantly in prayer” after Jesus ascended into heaven. They were awaiting the promised Comforter.
After Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost we read,
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47)
It is estimated that by AD 150 the Christian population was 40,000 and by AD 200 the population had grown to 218,000.
If this isn’t our parable of the mustard seed coming to life, I don’t know what is!
Another interesting fact about mustard is that it not only grows to a large shrub from a small seed, but it spreads very quickly, often taking over gardens and other carefully planted areas. Gardeners might call it “invasive”.
I'm a gardener and grow things from all sorts of seeds. I have plants growing from both large and small seeds. The odd things is that some of the largest and prolific plants start as the smallest seeds. For example, herbs such as mint start as a super tiny seed. But that one seed quickly reseeds and can literally take over your entire garden!
On the other hand, the seed for a Moringa tree is rather large but only grows a single tree.
The gospel of Jesus spread quickly, just like our mustard.
Lessons from the Parable of the Mustard Seed
What is the moral of the parable of the mustard seed and how can we apply it to our lives today?
The main point of this parable is that you can do a lot with a little. Or “less is more” so to speak.
The parable of the mustard seed is such a powerful story that provides us with so many things that we can apply to our own lives. It gives us a perspective from which to approach the many struggles and obstacles that we will, no doubt, face throughout our earthly lives.
The faith of a handfull of disciples helped to transform the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ!
Imagine what He can do through you and those you help lead to Him!
Mustard seed faith is powerful
The size of the mustard seed and the plant it grows into is significant.
The parable of the mustard seed reminds us that all we need is the slightest amount of faith. The smallest of things can turn into the greatest of blessings.
“Who dares despise the day of small beginnings?” (Zechariah 4:10)
These words from God come as the exiled Jews returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. They are discouraged as they rebuild the temple remembering the glory of the one Solomon had built.
Faith begins small. God’s work in your life, ministry, or family may feel small and insignificant, but do not be discouraged. It will grow! Remember how mustard spreads.
Your small beginnings will result in large endings! Remember the parable of the leaven? It reminds of us of the powerful growth of the Kingdom of God started with small beginnings.
Allow God’s Kingdom to grow in your life
The kingdom of God is so much more than simply professing with your mouth that you believe that Jesus died for your sins.
It is an active, living, and growing faith. Nourish that faith by reading God’s word, praying, worshiping, and learning.
You will see the kingdom of God grow in your heart, in the hearts of your family, and in the hearts of all of those you come into contact with.
If studying the Bible better is on your list of things to do this year, be sure to visit our Bible Study Resources page where you'll find everything you need to make Bible study a regular part of your daily routine.
You don’t need a bucketful of faith; all you need is a seed.
When I lost my beautiful daughter in an accident several years ago, people would often tell me how strong I was.
Truth be told, I wasn’t strong at all, I was simply enduring what life had handed me.
I resented God, wanted to die, and pushed through solely on the prayers of those who cared about me.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
My mustard seed of faith was that tiny glimmer of hope that maybe God really was all He promised us.
Maybe He really hadn’t left me and was holding me up, keeping me from drowning.
That seed of faith grew and I experienced a love so strong and a confidence so sure that I will never be the same woman I was.
Your heart is the fertile ground for mustard seed faith to flourish.
Sometimes your “mulberry tree” and your “mountain” are in your heart and not in your situation at all.
I know I already talked about this, but it was a game-changer for me so I want to be sure you don’t miss it.
So often we are looking for a miracle from God, but the true wonder is being achieved in our hearts. We put up walls, embrace selfish desires, and keep ourselves at arm's length from the painful stuff.
God uses the painful experiences in our lives to remove these things.
The entire point of the parable is this:
You don't need to be super-perfect Christian to see God move in your life. (Actually, there is no such thing.).
Too often, we tend to have thoughts that God can't use us because we are so new to being a Christian or maybe we still fall victim to our sinful ways.
God just needs you to have faith in Him – even if it is a near-microscopic amount like the the tiny mustard seed.
If you can do that, He can and will move mountains through you and for you!
If you want to dive deeper into the Parables of Jesus, be sure to read:
Want to learn more about the Parables of Jesus? Visit our Parables Study Listing!