The Mustard Seed
Before you go on with this outline, you ought to read, besides the above-mentioned passage, also Mk. 4:30-32 and Lk. 13: 8, 9. These two passages also give the parable of the mustard seed. The various writers give the story in slightly different words due to the fact that each narrator freely quotes the story without giving the exact words of Jesus.
FEATURES OF THE PARABLE
`This parable is called the parable of the mustard seed, since it speaks of that kind of a seed. The point of resemblance and comparison does not lie in other properties the mustard seed may have but merely in its size. This the text suggests when it speaks of the mustard seed as the smallest of all seeds. Of all the commonly used seeds of Palestine, the mustard was the smallest. It was idiomatic to speak of something as small as a mustard seed. It is this point of smallness that the parable emphasizes. Another feature of the story is that it speaks of the tremendous possibilities of that small seed—the seed in one season’s time produces a plant comparable in size to a small tree. Bible dictionaries state that mustard plants often attained a growth to ten or twelve feet high. Hence, the smallest of the commonly used seeds produced the tallest of plants.
Questions: What objections do you have to seeking for other points of comparison, say the use to which mustard plants arc put? How do you explain that vs. 32 says “which indeed is the least of all seeds” whereas there are seeds (e.g. poppy-seed) which are even smaller than mustard seed? Why did Jesus on another occasion (Matt. 17:20) speak of having a faith as a grain of mustard seed?
THE MAIN LESSON
There can be no doubt but the one chief lesson of the parable is that the kingdom of heaven from an insignificant beginning grows to a tremendous size. The point of view of the parable is the external growth of the cause of the Lord as represented in his church. Its small beginning in the days of Christ on earth, insignificant as it appeared at the time, was a seed destined as the mustard seed to become exceeding great. The parable of the leaven calls attention to the secret, spiritual growth of the kingdom; this parable stresses rather the external, numerical growth. The church that began in its New Testament form with a handful of disciples became on Pentecost a church numbering five thousand. After that it grew not only in Jerusalem but in all Judea, from there it spread out to Samaria and all the world. Today its branches extend all over the world. Let no one despise the day of little things, Zech. 4:10. The little stone cut out of the mountain becomes a mighty mountain filling all the earth, Dan. 2:35. The seed of the kingdom has tremendous propensities of growth. The church in heaven will consist of a multitude no man can number, saved out of all people, tongues and climes.
Questions: What comfort was there in this parable for the disciples? Does this parable mean to teach that every local church can expect such remarkable growth? Is it wrong to strive for increase in numerical growth? If not, how only may we strive for it? How do worldly movements usually attempt to begin, from a small beginning or with a flourish?
The parable speaks of the birds of the air nesting in the mustard tree. What is implied in this? According to some interpreters the birds refer to men of the world, who although they do not believe and form no part of the church, do receive temporal benefits from the church, as men receive protection from the hot son in the shade of a tree. So, they tell us, in the so-called Christian countries the wicked receive benefits of civilization, education, etc., none of which are found in heathen countries and are to be accounted for only by the presence of the church. In other words, there are common grace blessings for the world of wicked men flowing forth from the church. On the other hand, other interpreters emphasize that in every parable there are elements that belong to the drapery of the story and which may not be spiritualized. This then is the case with the birds nesting in the plant, since it does not belong to the main lesson of the plant. We leave the question for your discussion.
Questions: Are there benefits for the world flowing forth from the presence of the church? If there are, are these grace on the part of God toward the wicked? Does the parable when it speaks of the birds do so to show how much good the birds get out of it or to show how large the plant becomes?
The text of this parable is Matt. 13:33. It is also well to read the version of the parable found in Lk. 13:20, 21.
GROWN FROM WITHIN
The parable of the leaven speaks of the growth of the kingdom as does the parable of the mustard seed. However, there is an evident difference between the parables and the lesson taught. While a mustard seed is a plant above ground before the eyes of all, leaven works from within, secretly enlarging the mass of dough in which it was hidden. Consequently, while the mustard seed teaches external growth (size, numbers), the leaven teaches internal, spiritual growth. The former parable points to the external manifestation of the church, this points to the secret, internal operations of the Spirit in the church.
The leaven of Jesus’ day consisted of a leftover portion of the dough of a previous baking. Instead of the compressed yeasts of today, a piece of the leavened dough was preserved as a starter for the next baking. Only a small amount of leaven is needed to leaven a large mass of dough. Given due time, leaven hidden in the dough will, under proper conditions, multiply and finally leaven the entire mass. As a result, the heavy dough becomes a light mass fit to be baked and producing light, palatable bread. Dough not leavened never becomes good, palatable, pleasing bread. On the contrary, unleavened bread is repulsive.
WHAT IT REPRESENTS
Leaven refers in Scripture to doctrines and practices and usually occurs in the evil sense. For example, Jesus warned the disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees, by which he meant their doctrines (Luke 12:1). Paul exhorts the church in I Cor. 5:1 to purge out the old leaven, by which he means the sinful teachings and practices belonging to the believer’s life before their conversion. It is evident that the leaven of this parable cannot be understood in an evil sense, as referring to false doctrines. On the contrary, it must be understood in the good sense as representing the doctrines of truth as implanted in the heart. Still more exactly, it refers to what we call the internal calling, to God’s grace subjectively bestowed in the heart. The preaching of the gospel applied by the Spirit of God to the heart is the leaven which must and does leaven the whole lump. God’s grace works secretly, from within out, but surely permeates the whole man and all of life. It leaves nothing untouched. Spiritual life grows from within. Grace leavens the whole lump.
Undoubtedly three measures of meal are mentioned because three was a common amount of measures for one baking, cf. Gen. 18:6.
Questions: What is the chief lesson of the parable? There are those that take leaven in the evil sense of false doctrines and make the parable a warning. What objections do you have? Why should we expect Christians to grow in grace as they grow older? Does this parable mean to teach that the church is the leaven that–will leaven the whole life of the world, so that ultimately the world through this process will be rid of all evil? Prove that it is impossible to be a Christian on Sunday and merely a worldly business man or laborer the rest of the week? In application of the lesson of the parable should we stress that the grace of God must permeate all our lives or that the grace of God will permeate the Christian’s whole life? When will the time come for the church of God that the whole is entirely leavened, and that all sin is banished?
The Hid Treasure and
Read Matt. 13:44-46.
Both these parables present the kingdom of God as valuable above all else and as worthy of being sought above all else.
THE PRICELESS VALUE OF THE KINGDOM
In the first parable, the kingdom is compared to a treasure hid in the field. It was customary in those days to secrete one’s treasure in the earth. Compare Joshua 8:20, 21: Matt. 25:18. The second parable compares the kingdom to a pearl of great price. Pearls in Scripture denote something precious, e.g. in Matt. 7:6: compare also Rev. 21:21. Both these comparisons emphasize that the things of God’s kingdom are of inestimable value. How could it be otherwise since they deal with the fear of God which is not merely the highest but the only good for man who was created in God’s image!
Questions: Why was it necessary for Christ to emphasize the supreme value of the kingdom? Prove that there is continual need of emphasizing this fact. Just why is the kingdom of such great value?
Both parables emphasize that the acquisition of the kingdom demands sacrifice. In each instance the man sold what he had, all that he had. to secure the treasures. Certainly, all of God’s Word stresses the need of sacrifice. One cannot obtain possession of the heavenly things while at the same time seeking to hold on to earthly things. Yes, the kingdom demands that we shall sacrifice all things to obtain it. The Christian must endure persecution, Matt. 5:10-12: must deny himself, Matt. 16:24: deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, Titus 2:12; seek the things above, not the things on earth, Col. 3:1. The Christian must be ready to take up his cross, to lose his life, to give up the friendship of the world and of evil companions, etc.
Questions: How does the parable teach that a Christian must sell all that he has to obtain the eternal things? Does sacrifice for God’s sake merit for us the kingdom? Would it be right if a man found a treasure hid in a field, to keep it quiet from the owner and then buy the land? Does Jesus mean to approve deceit in the parable of the hid treasure?
SACRIFICE “WITH JOY”
Both parables include the idea that the selling of all takes place with joy. It is stated in so many words that the sacrifice is “with joy” in vs. 44. As a matter of fact, in both instances the idea of sacrificing, in the strict sense of the word, something is entirely absent. The man who buys the field in which the hid treasure is feels no pain at parting with all that he has. Neither does the merchantman who buys the pearl of great price. In both instances, they sell all they have gladly, joyously. They know they are getting far more than they had before, hence, there is no feeling of sacrifice. Certainly, if the Christian rightly evaluates the priceless benefits of God’s Kingdom, he can part with all things for the sake of the kingdom “with joy”. In Acts 5:41 we read of Peter and John that they departed from the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for “His name”. Paul in Rom. 8:18 says that he reckons all the sufferings of this present time not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us. Every sacrifice is insignificant in comparison to the great benefits of God’s kingdom. If the Christian views things aright, he not only must but he will “with joy” part with all to obtain the kingdom. He only trades tinsel for sparkling gold, present and corruptible things for eternal and incorruptible life.
Questions: How does the parable teach sacrifice? Prove that Christ presents the fear of God as an only good and not merely as one of many goods. If a Christian hesitatingly sacrifices present things, what is wrong with his esteem of the heavenly things? Do you deem that Christians in general have need today of anew realizing the priceless value of the spiritual things? Prove your point.
WHY TWO PARABLES?
In general, these two parables are very much alike, so much so that one is inclined to ask, Is there any fundamental difference at all? Did Jesus merely add the second parable to repeat the lesson of the former? Or is there indeed a difference between the two? I am inclined to think there is. First of all, because there is a definite advancement in idea throughout this chapter from parable to parable. Hence, we would also expect it here. Secondly, if we carefully consider the parables, it cannot escape us that there is a noteworthy difference. In the case of the parable of the hid treasure, the treasure was hidden in the field and the man merely stumbled upon it—he found what he was not at all looking for. In the case of the parable of the merchantman it is otherwise. This man was seeking for pearls. It is true he found something more priceless than he was seeking, but he was nonetheless seeking for pearls.
Notice further that the parables occur in exactly this order: first a man finds who is not seeking, then a man finds who is seeking. Indeed, there is a spiritual counterpart in this. For, first of all, it ever remains a truth that God is found of them that sought not after him. Is. 65:1. The kingdom does not become a man’s possession by his own first seeking: it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, it is of the Father’s drawing. But remember when once the sinner is found of God and regenerated, then he by the operations of God’s Spirit certainly becomes a seeker after God, Matt. 6:33, Matt. 7:13.
Questions: What view do you hold in respect to the relation of these two parables? Give your reasons. Do you believe that it is sufficient to teach that the kingdom is found by seeking? Does anyone find without seeking? How does the Spirit operate in the sinner’s heart making him find salvation; mention the steps?
The Scripture passage of this outline is Matt. 13:47-50.
In this parable, Jesus sounds a note of warning. He had spoken of the great external growth of the church (mustard seed), of the sure internal growth (leaven); furthermore, he had spoken of citizens of the kingdom in their joy in finding the kingdom. This parable sounds a note of warning. Not all those that are in the church will be such citizens ready to sacrifice all for the things of God’s kingdom. The net of the kingdom, the Master warns, gathers and will gather into the fold of the visible church the bad as well as the good, and the bad will not be finally separated from the good until the culmination of the kingdom in the day of judgment.
Although there is similarity between the parable of the tares and this parable of the draw-net, they should not be completely identified. We believe there is a fundamental difference in the lesson. The parable of the tares speaks of the wicked as coming from without, as being the work of an enemy; in this Jesus emphasizes that the very method of fishing itself brings the bad as well as the good into the midst of the net of the kingdom. Just how this is taught and what this implies will become more evident in the sequence.
THE NET AND THE SEA
The sea in Scripture often represents the turbulent world of fallen men. Is. 57:20′: 60:fi: Ps. 65:7; Rev. 13:1. Through this sea of mankind the net is drawn. The net spoken of is not a small casting- net. but a seine, a large draw-net. Such a net catches in its meshes all that conies in the way as it is drawn along the bottom toward shore. The latter is not the case with a hook and line, nor with a small casting net, but the draw-net always catches all that comes before it.
WHAT IS THE NET?
Just what does the net represent? Many simply answer: the preaching of the gospel. But this can hardly be, for although the gospel is to be promiscuously preached, the gospel purely preached never catches the bad. On the contrary, it declares to the bad, i.e. the unbelievers, that they have no part in the kingdom of Christ. It does not include them, but it excludes them. For this reason, the net cannot be the preaching of the gospel.
But what is the net then? The only interpretation that does justice to the parable and to Scripture in general sees in the net which gathers the good and the bad a reference to the manner in which God draws the net of his church and covenant through the sea of mankind. God’s church is a continued church, a church that goes on in the line of generations. The church as the net gathers into its bosom not merely the good but also the bad. and that because it receives into its midst families, houses, generations. God has willed that the whole line of generations bear the sign and seal of his covenant. So it was in the Old Testament. All that was born of Abraham received the sign and the seal of the covenant—it was in the net of the church visible. Yet not all were Israel that were of Israel. There were children of the kingdom that should be cast out. Thus it was from Abraham to Christ, but it is none other from Pentecost on, even as the net caught the whole line of generations from Seth to Abraham. After Pentecost, the path of the net can be easily traced from Judea to Samaria, through Asia into Europe, through Europe and into America. And always the net of the church visible receives into its midst the believers and their seed. But not are all Israel that are of Israel.
Evidently it is a fact that God gathers his church in the line of generations, and that whole generations are received into the bosom of the church visible. Of course, the purpose is not to make of the reprobate bad good fish, nor to show grace to the reprobate for a time. The fact that they are in the net, in the net because God draws the net so that families are in it, is evident to everyone. The bad as well as the good are born in the church. They have the same ministers and elders, the same signs and seals of the covenant, the same obligations. Although they are not all of Israel, they must be treated alike.
Naturally this fact that the church receives into its bosom whole families, the bad as well as the good, brings the battle within the very bosom of the church. The church has a battle to wage over against the world within. The bad fish corrupt everything. They desecrate God’s Sabbaths, they corrupt the truth and holy offices of the church. They often become ministers and elders, the natural seed, the seed of the flesh, frequently gains the upper hand. Then there is need of reformation in the visible church. This creates a new denomination in the midst of the church visible—the fish seek a new corner in the net away from the bad. But again from their own loins the believers bring forth the children after the flesh as well as the elect children of God. Never in this world does the final and complete, separation, and deliverance from the bad fish take place.
Questions: What does the sea represent? Why is it impossible for the net to refer to the preaching of the gospel? What is the net? Can the church on earth ever be pure in this sense that there are no bad fish in it? Why are reformations necessary so often in the history of the church?
THE SHORE AND THE SEPARATION
The shore represents the day of judgment. Then the net will be full. The church will have brought forth all its children, both those after the flesh and those after the Spirit. The net will have passed through the entire sea of mankind and gathered into the midst of the church visible all those God is pleased to bring into her midst. Then what no discipline and no reformation could permanently effect, God will finally effect by His holy angels. Note, they will sever the wicked from the righteous, not vice-versa. The church will be saved, and the wicked cast out.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE WICKED
Notice that the parable does not speak of the salvation of the righteous, but only of the damnation of the wicked. They will be cast into “the furnace of fire’’, that is, into hell. There shall be “wailing and gnashing of teeth’’, that is, untold agony.
Questions: Why should the angels separate the bad: why cannot the righteous themselves do this? What do the Russelites (Jehovah’s Witnesses) teach in regard to the destruction of the wicked? How does this parable disprove their claim? How does this parable deny the claim of some, that all men will ultimately be saved?