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Week Two | The Kingdom of God is a Mustard Seed

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The Gospel on the Ground Online Biblical Study
Reading Assignment – Session Two (Pg. 34-59)
Listen to the Audio version | Reading Time: 5 minutes

For the last three years, I’ve planted a garden in my backyard.  Peer pressure during the pandemic is to thank for that, but I have so enjoyed watching minuscule seeds sprouting into these magnificent plants that grow delicious herbs and veggies.  And it certainly has helped me to better appreciate the agricultural references we see throughout the Scriptures.

“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

For most Christians, this is not a new passage.  Nor are the other references to mustard seeds in the Bible.  In fact, I’m sure many of us have held mustard seeds in our hands or seen one encapsulated in a necklace.

If only our faith were that small, we could tell a mountain to move and it would.  And the kingdom of God somehow has the might to grow into a tree packed in its tiny shell… right?  Sort of…

The Kingdom of God is a Mustard Seed

If we think back to one of the most important lessons we’ve learned in viewing Scripture through a Middle Eastern Lens, it is that Westerners focus on the form of an object, while the Middle East focuses on the function of that same object.

Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a mustard seed.  As Westerners, we look at the form (size of the seed).  As Middle Easterners, they look at the function (what the seed does).

kristi mclelland, Pg. 39 of “The gospel on the ground”

And the mustard seed in the Middle East is not thought of as this remarkable illustration of faith, at least not to gardeners or farmers.  Mustard seed is a weed!

Mustard “has deep taproots that can extend 1-3 feet below the soil surface and in dry conditions, the roots may grow up to 5 feet seeking water… If mustard is allowed to seed it could become a pest in the following crop.”  (Michigan State University Extension, 2011.)

That’s some serious root growth!  This means that it is not an easy plant to get rid of, once it begins growing.

And that’s exactly how Middle Easterners, in the time of Jesus, would have understood the parable from Matthew 13.  They lived in an agriculturally-rich environment.  Much of what they as God’s people celebrated was based on harvests.  They would have easily drawn the parallel.

The kingdom of God is a mustard seed, in that once it begins to grow, it is hard to stop.

So Jesus is saying, as He likely stood in a field full of mustard plants, that the kingdom of God is unstoppable.  Once it takes root, it’s just going to spread out further and further.  It’s going to grow on you like a weed.  

What good news!!


And just like the mustard plant that goes to seed can easily scatter hundreds of tiny seeds for more growth and expansion, so did the early Church.

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.  Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
Acts 8:1-4, NIV

When the followers of Jesus were forced to leave Jerusalem because of persecution, our Bibles say in English, that they were “scattered”.  But the Greek word that was originally used in this passage is the noun, diaspora, which is derived from the verb, diaspeiro.  

Diaspeiro is a compound word of dia, meaning “over or through” and speiro, which means “to scatter or sow seeds”.

“We create space, and the living God fills it.”  (Pg. 52, “The Gospel on the Ground”)

When we clear a path in our gardens, we move out the dead brush of the previous harvest to make way for new things to grow, the living God fills that space by turning small seeds (even as small as mustard seeds) into thriving plants. He then takes those small seeds and sets them loose on the world, scattering them to grow and expand their way through the land, just as the Gospel and the glory-carriers did.

Scattering happened to the church.
She grew through persecution.

We often find ourselves in places or situations in life we didn’t expect or plan to be in for our lives.  But often it is the times like these when we are forced out of our comfort zones, away from “home” so to speak, that the most growth takes place.  And that growth is our way to bear witness to what God has done in and through us.

…the Jewish people trace certain rhythms of walking and participating with the living God throughout the story of the Bible.  Participating in what?  The restoration of all things.  The Lord is making all things new, and we are part of that restorative work alongside Him in the earth.

kristi mclelland, Pg. 52 of “the gospel on the ground”

What a gift and a privilege it is to partner with the living God!  To be the boots on the ground and to serve as lights of the kingdom that pierce through the darkness of a broken and hurting world.  We just need to be willing to yield to the winds of where He might take us, and how our own undoing becomes a catalyst for His glory to be known.

May these words from Kristi McLelland serve as a challenge and as a prayer:

As women who follow the way of Jesus, who are part of the kingdom of celebration invading the empire of entertainment in our own generation, this bumper sticker [Well-behaved women seldom make history.] is a good reminder for all of us.  We have a seat at the table.  We each have a part to play.  The living God is actively inviting us to partner with Him in the restoration, renewal, and repair of the world.  Faithful women have gone before us.  It’s our turn.

kristi mclelland, pg. 57 of “the gospel on the ground”

1. The reference to a mustard seed in the Bible might not mean what we think.
2. In the Middle East, mustard seed is considered a weed!
3. The kingdom of God is a mustard seed, in that once it begins to grow, it is hard to stop.
4. The early church was scattered like seeds.  It grew through persecution.
5. We have a part to play in the kingdom of God, and it is our turn to grow like a weed and help spread the good news.

Where is God inviting you to partner with Him in the restoration, renewal, and repair of the world?

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The Gospel on the Ground | Kristi McLelland

A 7-week study unpacking the life of the early church in the book of Acts to see that the kingdom of God is always on the move, always looking outward to bring meaning and joy to a world searching for true fulfillment and hope.

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