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The Mustard Seed

Mark 4:26-34.

“The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed”.

In 1934 an evangelist called Mordecai Ham was travelling up the East Coast of America. He was preaching in every town as he went. By November that year he had reached Charlotte, North Carolina. He drove a large van with “Hear Ham” printed in big letters on the outside. He relied on local churches along the way to provide a hall to preach in wherever he went.

He was a very outspoken man and often caused upset with the things he preached. There were even times when fights broke out! However his preaching touched many people’s lives.

The churches in Charlotte welcomed him. They gave him a hall to preach in. However, opposite the hall, Ham discovered that there was a secret brothel. Many of the students in the town were visiting it. He wasn’t about to keep quiet about that! The authorities heard about the possible trouble and word got out that there could be violence at Ham’s meetings. To many this made the meetings more attractive! Large crowds came.

Two 15 year old boys heard about it. They were excited about the possibility of seeing a fight.  So they decided to go to the meeting. One was called Grady and the other was known at home as Billy Frank.

They went and were fascinated by the preacher. In the middle of the talk Mordecai Ham looked straight at Billy Frank and said, “Young man, you are a sinner! “

Both boys decided to go the next night as well. That night Billy Frank was so convicted that he gave his life to Christ.

Billy Frank’s full name was William Franklin Graham; known to us as Billy Graham.

Billy died this year at the age of 99.  In his lifetime he preached to more people than any other person – 200 million at his crusades; 2.2 billion across the world on television. At the Melbourne Cricket Ground, in 1959, he preached to 130,000 people – far more than they have ever had there for a cricket match. In Seoul, South Korea, in 1973, he preached to over 1.1 million people in one meeting. Countless thousands have become Christians because of his preaching.

Little did Mordecai Ham know that night in November 1934 what a mustard seed he had planted; and how big it would grow. It would become a massive tree.

The other 15 year old, Grady Wilson, became one of Billy’s right hand men on his Crusade Team.

“The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed”.

In our Old Testament reading we see that God has run out of patience with Saul, Israel’s first king. He has disobeyed God so many times. So God tells Samuel, the chief priest, to find another king to replace Saul.

Samuel is terrified. He tells God, “No way. If Saul finds out he’ll kill me.”  But Samuel knows he has to go. God has spoken. And God tells Samuel to go and see a man called Jesse, who lives in Bethlehem. “I’ll tell you what to do”, says God.

When Samuel arrives in Bethlehem the locals are very suspicious. “What’s the high priest doing here?” Samuel tells them, “I have come for a sacrifice with Jesse and his sons.”

At the sacrifice Samuel asks Jesse if he could see his sons, each one in turn. He saw the oldest one, Eliab. Wow, what a handsome man – a tall, dark Adonis. One look at him and girls would faint.

“This must be the one”, Samuel thought. “No, he is not the man”, God said.

Next came Abinadad. He was just as good looking. “No, not the man”, God said again.

Then came Shammah. Same story.

Samuel saw 4 more. But again it was the same story.

It’s very appropriate that we’re looking at this on Father’s Day. Seven fine sons. What a proud Dad Jesse must have been!

But Samuel was embarrassed. God had told him to come all this way. Jesse had shown him all his 7 sons. And all God can say is “No.” Had Samuel got the message wrong?

Frankly he felt a bit of an idiot.  In desperation he asks, “Jesse, are you sure these are all your sons?”

“Well”, replied Jesse. “There is one more. But he’s only a lad.”

“Bring him to me straight away. We won’t have a sacrifice until I’ve seen him.”

Samuel saw him. He was certainly an attractive boy. But he was very young. However when he appeared God said, “This is the man. This is the next king of Israel.”

So Samuel anointed him there. And the Spirit fell upon him. Soon after that we see him defeating Goliath. And he went on to become the most successful leader in Israel’s history.

Little did Samuel know that by anointing this young boy he had planted a mustard seed that would grow into a massive tree. “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.”

Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God being like a mustard seed. And how big this mustard seed would grow. Did this come true in his own life? Yes, it did. In the most impressive way possible.

One day he entered the great natural amphitheatre which surrounded Jerusalem. Up to 2 million people were there. He received a rapturous reception. People threw palm branches down in front of the donkey he was riding. They thought he would be the conquering king come to throw out the hated Romans.

A few days later some of the same people were shouting for his crucifixion. Whipped, spat upon, insulted in the worst possible way, he was hung upon the Cross. Naked, totally humiliated and in such pain we cannot imagine he hung there. The cheering had turned to mocking. His followers had almost all deserted him. Worst of all, he felt his Father in Heaven has deserted him too. He felt totally alone.

And yet, and yet …. he was fulfilling his own words. By dying he was giving everyone else in the World the offer of forgiveness. By dying he was sowing a mustard seed so big that we can’t really imagine it.

The mustard tree that he planted on that Cross is huge across the World and growing fast in areas like China, Africa and South America. Take China – 150 years ago there were only a handful of Christians there. Thanks to missionary efforts and, under great persecution, it is now estimated there are around 100 million!

We look around us and many people say that we are no longer a Christian country. But we cannot ignore that our whole legal system and government is founded on Biblical teaching. Schools, hospitals and orphanages were set up by those who were dedicated to following Jesus. His influence is deeply imbedded in our society. The mustard tree is certainly not dead here.

Did he know what a vibrant seed he was planting when he hung on that Cross, abandoned by everyone that day 2000 years ago? What a mustard tree it now is.

But what does planting a mustard seed really mean? What do the stories of Mordecai Ham, Samuel and Jesus have in common? In each one they are obeying the word of God and putting it into practice. Mordecai Ham believed God had told him to preach and he did. Samuel was told clearly by God to anoint a new King. And he did. Jesus was told by God to die for the sins of the World. And he did.

If we call ourselves Christians we have the privilege of being able to hear God’s voice; either by reading the Bible or by listening to his Holy Spirit. Are we listening? Are we obeying?

Is planting a mustard seed easy? Often, no, it is not. Was it easy for Mordecai Ham to get up every night and preach. It was tiring work with huge amounts of opposition. Was it easy for Samuel to go and anoint David? He went but he was in fear of his life. Was it easy for Jesus to die an excruciating death? The answer is obvious.

What is God telling us to do? Are we holding back from doing it? Is there an email we should be sending? Is there a letter we should be writing? Is there a visit we should be making? Is there some peacemaking to be done between 2 friends? If we are ignoring what God is telling us to do, that seed will never get planted. There will be no tree.

We need to question ourselves every day – what does God want me to do today? There is no more satisfying feeling in the Christian life than obeying what we know God wants us to do in life.

All we have to do is plant the seed. God will provide the growth. He will provide the stalk. He will provide the branches. He will provide the leaves.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. So let’s plant a seed today.

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