I think trees are beautiful. I spend the afternoon of our last New Year’s day on a blanket under a gloriously large tree.
We were playing board games with my wife, my daughter, and her fiancé. Since I live in Australia, it was a warm day, and cool shade the tree provided was magnificent. It was an idyllic afternoon.
Jesus Seems to Have Liked Trees
Jesus seems to have liked trees too, since he used them a lot in his teachings. We often misunderstand the teachings of Jesus because we don’t have the context. Here’s a great example:
Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 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.)
There’s something very odd about this verse. You might not even see it unless I point it out to you.
Let me start by asking you if you’ve ever seen a mustard tree? You haven’t? That’s because there’s no such thing.
A mustard plant is a shrub, not a tree, and it only grows up to eight feet high. So, what is Jesus talking about? Didn’t he know what a mustard plant was?
The problem becomes even worse when you realise that most Bible translations don’t actually translate the fact that in the original Greek, Jesus is reported as saying that the mustard seed grew and became a “mega” tree. “Mega” is actually the Greek word and it means precisely what you probably think it means. It means a “great” tree. Most Bible translators know that a mustard plant is only small and so they don’t include the word “mega” because it doesn’t seem to make sense. So, we seem to have a problem here.
To help us understand, let’s leave that “tree” for now and take a look at another tree in the Bible. This was the tree that King Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream in the book of Daniel. This truly was a “mega” tree, and a heavenly messenger explained its meaning to the king:
The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, 21 with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds— 22 Your Majesty, you are that tree! (Daniel 4:20–22.)
That was what Nebuchadnezzar wanted to be like: massive and powerful, productive and protective. That is what most of us wish we could be. He thought that he could be that by himself, but he couldn’t. That was what Nebuchadnezzar wanted to be like: massive and powerful, productive and protective. That is what most of us wish we could be.
In the end Nebuchadnezzar’s mighty tree was cut down by heaven, so that the king could learn some hard lessons about humility (vv.14–15).
The Kingdom of God is Often Overlooked or Even Despised
Jesus was teaching that the Kingdom of God is like an insignificant shrub, often overlooked or even despised compared to the seemingly important kingdoms of this world. But the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of unlimited potential. It grows and grows to encompass all that we ever dreamed and hoped for.
Jesus had been performing amazing miracles. He had just healed a poor woman with a terribly deformed body. For eighteen years she had endured severe curvature of the spine and, no doubt, was resigned to live with her disability for the rest of her life. But the Lord is full of compassion and mercy and laying His hand on her twisted frame, she immediately straightened her body.
The people thought that Jesus would head down to Jerusalem, sit on David’s throne, have himself crowned king, overthrow the Romans, and that he would then establish God’s eternal kingdom on earth. All that they could see was that Jesus was headed for power and greatness, and that if they stuck with him, they would become important and powerful too.
The Path to Greatness is the Path of the Tiny Mustard Seed
But Jesus knew that before the mountaintop there is always a valley, and that there is always a cross before the crown. Jesus spent three years humbly serving and healing others, before his glorification. And now, as Jesus taught the people, he knew that he would soon be betrayed, rejected, and executed. He knew that he would be revealed to the world as “rejected by men… a man of sorrows” (Isa 53:3, KJV). The same chapter describes Jesus as, “a tender shoot… like a root out of dry ground” (v.3, NIV.)
It’s all too easy for us to want to be the mighty tree, just like Nebuchadnezzar. But Jesus teaches us that the path to greatness is the path of the tiny mustard seed.
Think about your day today. What “mustard seed” moments fill your day? These are the little moments of kindness and service to others, perhaps unknown to anyone else other than to you and God. They represent the path to true greatness.
Article supplied with thanks to Dr Eliezer Gonzalez.
About the Author: Dr Eli Gonzalez is the Senior Pastor of Good News Unlimited and the presenter of the Unlimited radio spots, and The Big Question. Sign up to his free online course called Becoming a Follower of Jesus to learn about Jesus and His message.