Alfred Place Baptist Church

4: 30-34 The Mustard Seed

Mark 4:30-34 “Again Jesus said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when it is planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.’ With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”

This is the last occasion on which our Lord teaches here on the western shores of the sea of Galilee. His enemies, the Pharisees and the supporters of king Herod, have already made up their minds to murder him (3:6). Jesus is teaching the people from the boat and one section of the crowd listening along the shoreline is hostile to him and his message. One can imagine they might have been openly scornful, muttering, mocking, and so you notice that our Lord doesn’t get out of the boat. At the end of the afternoon when he has finished preaching he says to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side” (v.35), and the twelve get into the boat with him. Christ went “just as he was”, Mark says (v.36), in other words, with no bag of personal belongings taken from his home. It was too dangerous to return to Capernaum and pick them up. They hoisted sail and they began to cross the lake to Decapolis which was outside the jurisdiction of king Herod.

So this parable of the mustard seed is the climax of Jesus’ teaching in Galilee. The background is the religious leaders’ rejection. This new movement is not attracting the good and the great, quite the reverse. His own disciples are perplexed; things seem to be going nowhere. David’s throne hasn’t been set up. The Roman occupying force have not been engaged and defeated. Christ is not up front and open about his identity as the Messiah when he speaks to the crowds. There is a certain evasiveness, even reluctance to acknowledge who he is. Even John the Baptist in prison sends some of disciples to inquire, “Are you really the promised one, or should we be looking for someone else?”

That is the context in which the Lord teaches this penultimate parable in Mark’s gospel. But there were many more which Mark does not record, in fact he tells us that “he did not say anything to them without using a parable” (v.34). Notice the language with which Christ introduces this parable: “What shall we say that the kingdom of God is like?” (v.30) Think of one of the greatest passages of the Old Testament, Isaiah chapter 40, where the prophet sets out on a new theme: “Comfort, comfort my people says your God”. Do you remember that a little later in that section he asks, “To whom, then, will you compare God?” (v.18) These Old Testament believers standing here by blue Galilee listening to the Saviour would have pricked up their ears with the way Jesus phrases that question, “What shall we say that the kingdom of God is like?”, and distant bells would have sounded . . . “that sounds like that question of Isaiah, ‘To whom, then, will you compare God?'” The prophet says to them “Can you compare God to an idol?” What nonsense! Then all Isaiah’s poetry floods forth; “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing . . . Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint” (Is. 40:21-23, 28-31). All those great declarations had been planted in the minds of many of Jesus’ hearers from childhood. It could have been the favourite passage of Scripture for many of them. You want a vision of God? We have a vision of God. This is it, here in the words of Isaiah. You are tired and weary? Behold your God! You are intimidated because all the leading men are contemptuous of Jesus? Then consider the mighty Creator, and how he renews the strength of his people. That is the background to this parable of Jesus. Men are behaving demonically, but God is doing whatever he pleases. “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like?” Jesus the Christ will tell us. God has spoken by the prophets. Here is this voice of certainty in the midst of the tensions. See the stature of the man from Nazareth teaching from the boat.

B.B.Warfield tells the story of a scene of anarchy and chaos in a 19th century American frontier town – a dim reflection of the pictures the world witnessed in Baghdad in April 2003, looting and theft. There was an army man shaking his head gazing at a similar scene out west. Then after some hours he saw a man strolling through the crowds. How impressive he was, calm and upright, his very demeanour inspired confidence. So fascinated was he with the stranger’s bearing that after the man had walked past him he turned around to watch him, detached from the mob’s greed, going on his way. He discovered that the stranger had done the same. They looked at one another, and then the stranger came walking back to him, touched him with his finger and said to him, “What is the chief end of man?” The army man replied, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.” “Ah,” the stranger said, “I thought you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks.” “Why, that is just what I was thinking of you,” replied the army man. The Lord Christ here is like that man. The entire world was lying in darkness. Across the continents of the world there was total ignorance of Jesus. But here, even in Israel, his family thought he was crazy; the religious leaders considered him a messenger from hell; the Herodians thought he was a political nuisance; his own disciples were perplexed. He is there, absolutely alone in the whole world, in the midst of all this Jewish religious confusion and he is being renewed by God. He can allude to that vision of God which Isaiah had seen: “What shall we say that the kingdom of God is like?” Christ will tell us!

What is his answer? Revolution? A summons to arms? Ten thousand swords flashing under the Syrian sky? Christ says that he will use yet another parable to describe the kingdom of God. “A mustard seed . . . It is like a mustard seed.” “A mustard seed? But that is the smallest of all the seeds. If you are going to talk about seeds surely you would say an acorn?” No, the Lord says, “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground.” This parable of Jesus is in fact recorded three times in the New Testament. The image is immediately understandable; it speaks of things that have an inauspicious beginning but a very public and visible conclusion. We see it in all sorts of ways at a natural level. A boy strikes one match and lights some dry bracken in April and he sets a mountain on fire and burns down a forest. A huge whale, the largest living creature, began life as a fertilised egg too small to be seen by the naked eye. Climb Plunlumon, an hour away from Aberystwyth, and you will come to a tiny spring bubbling out of the ground. A child can hop over it or even straddle those headwaters, on each side of it. That is the beginning of the mighty Severn river, crossed at its mouth by two of the longest bridges in the world. Think of the realm of ideas and how a book you can easily hold in your hand can change the world’s thinking. Some were written by Karl Mark or by Chairman Mao or by Charles Darwin, while another was written by Moses and Matthew and the other Bible writers. What influence the Book has had over us.

1. DO NOT DESPISE THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS.

How insignificant was this man and his message 2000 years ago. He is announced by a very strange royal herald, a man who was a loner, a recluse, preaching in the desert of all places – and living on what he could gather in the desert, while he told men about the coming of the Messiah. A mere voice crying in the wilderness. Then think of Jesus’ birth, that his mother’s husband was the village carpenter. Jesus was born while his parents were on a journey to register for a state census, and with no place to stay he emerged into the world in a stable. He was a refugee in Egypt for his first years. The family returns and lives in Nazareth – a nowhere place – the butt of the comedian’s jokes. When Jesus begins to preach he soon meets hatred. He has to keep one step ahead of his enemies every week. He lives like the Scarlet Pimpernel. They seek him everywhere and the only way they can catch him is to bribe one of his disciples to lead them to him. Then they savagely beat him, condemn him to death and they kill him in the most cruel way. They torture him to death by driving nails through his hands and feet lifting him naked, suspended on a cross to suffer for hours. They make sure he is dead by thrusting a spear into his side. He is utterly despised and humiliated in his death. God does nothing to intervene; he does not defend or vindicate his own Son, but rather seems to make things worse by withdrawing any spiritual comfort from him. In the midst of all this of course there was some extraordinary teaching, and mighty works, but the framework of the life of Christ was one of national rejection.

Then there were the men he chose to be his special friends, to serve him, ordinary working men, not the Jewish leaders, no member of the Sanhedrin, and not a single person who had had rabbinical schooling. An apostle reminded some of his people later on, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (I Cor. 1:26-29). God chose slaves like Onesimus, and politically incorrect men like members of the Roman occupational force and slave-owners like Philemon. He selected a persistently ill woman who had an issue of blood, lepers, and people who had been demon-possessed. Fringe people, not the decent middle classes. They were his chosen followers.

Again, consider Jesus’ immensely stringent ethical programme. Following him meant taking up your cross and denying yourself. That was non-negotiable. He insisted on non-retaliation, and considering other people better than yourself, and forgiving people seventy times seven. The world despised it then and still does. Watson and Crick were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The 50th anniversary of their discovery of the structure of DNA is about to be celebrated. Those scientists have no place for God in their thinking, in fact, James Watson said that “the two stupidest sentences in the English language are ‘Love thine enemy’ and ‘The meek shall inherit the earth.'” He credits his success to his own lack of meekness and his own self-promotion. What hope could there be for a religious movement promoting self-denial and humility? You would say that it is doomed to failure. It will start as an insignificant seed and it would end just the same.

Again the Lord insisted that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. Our first priority in life must be seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness. How men despise that! When the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko was able to visit the Europe for the first time he imagined that everyone in the West he would meet would be a Christian. Then he heard that the novelist Kingsley Amis was an atheist. At some Arts presentation dinner he saw Amis and he went up to him full of curiosity and he said to him, “You don’t believe in God do you?” “I hate God,” said Kingsley Amis. His son, Martin Amis, told that story in his father’s memorial service in a church, and we are told that the congregation roared with laughter. What future has some religious movement which is 2000 years old, that puts the living God at the very centre of everything?

Again, Christ said that the only way a person could enter the kingdom of God was by a new birth: “You must be born again,” he said, “except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Morality and education and culture and social significance and wealth were not in themselves keys to heaven. There had to be a conversion so pervasive that it was like a radical new beginning, a new start, a birth from heaven which was sovereignly bestowed: “the wind bloweth where it listeth, even so is every man born of the Spirit.” How utterly humiliating to the natural man. God must work in me, or I am barred for ever from heaven.

Again Christ tells us that only through his giving his own life on the cross of Golgotha could we be saved from sin. The Son of God must come from heaven and take human nature, be born into this world and live a life of utter submission to God’s law. Only by his becoming the dying Lamb of God as an offering made to his Father, could the wrath of a sin-hating God be propitiated towards our sin. That is the only plea which can obtain forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked come to Thee for dress,
Helpless look to Thee for grace,
Foul I to Thy fountain fly,
Wash me Saviour, or I die.” (Augustus Toplady).

How utterly humiliating! That I must lay aside my good works, and my decent life, and my religion and plead the blood of Jesus Christ! Only through Christ’s life and death can mercy be mine! Surely there can be no hope for such a message, why, you have to give people some self-esteem and self-worth. A travelling salesman at a fair was packing up and talking to an evangelist who was also packing up his bookstall, and he was asking the evangelist had he had a good day, and he added, “and I suppose that our job is much the same, getting people to take something.” “Yes,” agreed the evangelist, “but you have difficulty getting people up to your price. I have difficulty getting people down to mine.” The task for the church is to get people actually to acknowledge, “I the chief of sinners am but Jesus died for me.” What hope is there fr such a message catching on and becoming popular in the 21st century? It’s a mustard seed of a message, and surely it will die a mustard seed. No, says Jesus. Born a mustard seed, yes, but “it becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade” (v.32).

2. CONSIDER THE EXTRAORDINARY GROWTH OF THIS MUSTARD SEED.

The tiny mustard seed becomes the largest plant. That is what Jesus is planting, seeds of the largest of all trees. He is not planting dandelion seeds but the seeds of the mightiest of trees, so that is what is going to grow. If you plant mustard seeds mustard plants will grow. Christ is speaking about the effectual growth of his kingdom. That is what Jesus is teaching this puzzled and hostile group of men and women. That is what the kingdom of God is like, an organism of dynamic growth. One man was sitting in a boat predicting the vital expansion of his kingdom, and who would have imagined looking at that scene and listening to him that his kingdom would last at least 2000 years, and that there would be by the 21st century almost 2,000 million people alive today who would call themselves Christians, 900 million Protestants and 500 million evangelical, Bible-centred Christians?

It has not merely survived, Christianity has thrived and filled the world. See how afraid the Hindu and Muslim authorities are of this message. They will tolerate no liberty in bringing this message to the lands where they are in the majority. What murder they unleash on a mustard seed. Consider the hostility of the other faiths at Jesus’ time, like the weeds that threaten to crush the gospel, the worship of the divine Caesar, the gods of the Greeks, the philosophy of Aristotle and his followers, the mystery religions, the zeal of entrenched Pharisaism as its champions crossed land and sea to make one convert. One man sat in a boat and had the effrontery to say his kingdom would be the largest of all garden plants? Was he right? Today who worships the Roman Caesars, or the gods of the Greeks? Yet this mustard seed has become an enormous tree. Consider that this was done while the cruellest hatred had been focused on this seed, the fury of Saul of Tarsus and the Jews who sought to strangle the early church in its crib, the Roman persecutions under Nero and then under Diocletian.

Frequently this hatred erupted over the centuries and sought to destroy the mustard seed. Think of the machinery of the Roman Inquisition whose one aim was to burn up the mustard seed. The great William Tyndale – the Luther of England – who translated the Bible into English was caught, strangled to death and his body burned at the stake. The Inquisition killed thousands of Christians like him. How the world has sought to destroy the mustard seed. Consider the history of this past century when there have been more martyrs for Christ than all the previous 19 centuries put together, yet still the tree of Christ thrives. Consider the opposition of the natural heart to such a humiliating message, and yet it grows – Christ is to millions the power of God and the wisdom of God. Consider the weaknesses of ourselves who are its adherents. What failures we are in following Christ, torn by scandals, cold in our love. How many of us have stood by a fireside in the presence of the world and denied our Saviour by our language. Yet still the tree grows!

On the very first occasion Peter stands full of the Holy Spirit and preaches the word of Christ there is extraordinary growth. Three thousand men are convicted and believe on Christ. Soon there are five thousand more. People are alarmed, saying, “these are the men who are turning the world upside down.” Samaria is shaken, an African from Ethiopia hears the word, Europe falls before the gospel and out and out the gospel expands. The traditions of men and their sacerdotalism threaten to smother the tree, but God pours out his Spirit and the great reformers call the church back to such themes as Christ alone, and Scripture alone, and faith alone, and grace alone, and God’s glory alone, and the church thrives. Today consider the spread of the kingdom in places such as South America and Korea and North America and Zambia and South Africa. Think of William Wilberforce, that little man from Hull, and the impact of his life on the abolition of slavery. The mustard seed grew and became a mighty tree. Think of William Carey, a little shoe-repairer, and how he is constrained to go to India where he lived for 42 years, never returning to England. He translated the entire Bible or portions of the Bible into a score of Indian languages. God planted one mustard seed in India and what a mighty growth came from it. Let me illustrate it as I have done before in this way:

In the year 1834 two disconnected events occurred. An acorn germinated in Tatton Park in Cheshire, England and in the next 165 years became one of the Park’s familiar landmarks until the year 1998 when the marks of disease and death were all over the old tree. Then an idea germinated in the minds of furniture-makers Peter Toaig and Garry Olson. The oak was felled in 1998. It was divided up and distributed between 75 craftsmen, joiners, artists, sculptors and designers. Not a twig of the oak was wasted. Its sawdust was mixed with resin to make a tabletop, its oak-leaf compost was turned into paper, and its acorns were planted on the estate by schoolchildren.

The 75 men and women got to work on the seasoned oak. Their products were as diverse as a seascape of kelp and fish made by a sculptor named John Mainwaring and called ‘Shoal’ or an exquisite chair made by Richard La-Trobe Bateman from the branch wood of the tree with its strong bends and twists. Alan Peters constructed a clean-lined and splendidly-hinged oak chest. Jeff Soan carved a contented, four-square pig. Robin Day made a quartet of small chairs. Cabinets were made, and even a foetal stethoscope was turned upon a lathe. The scores of artefacts produced by the 75 craftsmen were gathered together in the year 2002 in the Geffrye Museum in east London. There, an exhibition named ‘Onetree’ of all the works made by these artists, opened and ran throughout the summer. An accompanying book illustrated by Robert Walker went on sale in the museum shop for twenty pounds.

What was the other event that occurred in the year 1834? Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in Kelvedon, Essex, England. The son and grandson of preachers he was converted in 1850 and the following year became the pastor of Waterbeach Baptist Church where he remained for three years until in his twentieth year he was called to New Park Street Baptist Church in London which was soon full to overflowing. This necessitated the building of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1859 where he remained for 38 years until his death in 1892. He was a remarkable preacher. His theology of the triumph of grace equipped him for it. He believed in the free offer of the gospel and that men should be urged and pleaded with to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. His keen intellect, personal modesty, fluency in speaking, constant study of the Reformers, Puritans and leaders of the Evangelical Awakening of the previous century all served to equipped him for his extraordinary ministry. He had a prodigious memory of the Bible, and an ardent love for his Saviour Christ. All these virtues and many more gave him an ease and delight in preparing sermons. It was no burden to face the constant deadline of two Sunday sermons and the one each Thursday night. His voice was clear, and the common people heard him gladly. His sermons were characterised by excellence in communication, biblical faithfulness and transformational power. The Metropolitan Tabernacle congregation numbered 6,000 each Sunday and under his preaching 14,692 people were added to the church. From 1855, which was his third year at New Park Street, London, his sermons were taken down by a stenographer and sold for a penny each week. They were bound into annual volumes and they are still in print today. At the time of his death 50 million copies had been sold. By today almost 350 million have been published. He is the author of about 150 books almost all of which are still in print in America and Great Britain though he himself has been dead for 110 years. Every twig and leaf of Spurgeon, that great Christian oak tree, is being scrutinised and used by someone somewhere in the world every moment of each day. His influence will never die.

That is an example of the fulfilment of such Biblical prophecies as these: one man, Abraham, is given a covenant promise by Jehovah, that his descendants – those who share in his faith – will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. Or you find a psalmist speaking of Messiah’s reign: “He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. The desert tribes will bow before him and his enemies will lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him . . . may the whole earth be filled with his glory, Amen and Amen” (Ps. 72:8-11, 19). The prophet Isaiah in his latter chapters speaks continually of the spread of this King’s reign, like a huge circus tent, the biggest tent you have ever seen: “Enlarge the place of thy tent. Lengthen thy cords; strengthen thy stakes”. The prophet Micah compares the kingdom of God to a vast living mountain, rising up and up and dwarfing the earth, and the peoples of the earth setting off to live on it: “Behold the mountain of the Lord in latter days shall rise!”

When Christ speaks of his kingdom he does not say that it will be like the seed that lands on the path and is immediately eaten by the birds of the air. It is not like the seed that lands in thin soil or amongst the weeds that springs up for a little while and then dies, but it is like a seed whose roots are anchored firm and sure in the Saviour’s own love and produces a mighty tree, the greatest of all living plants, and the birds of the air, white and black and yellow and brown, all come and perch in its shade.

3. THE GRAND PROSPECTS FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

There are many times when I look at the weakness of God’s cause in Wales and throughout Europe, and at much of the ineffectiveness of all we endeavour to do, at our inconsistencies and inconsta ncies as Christians. Time and again this phrase comes into my mind, that “we must support the cause.” In many ways that is the concept of the kingdom of God that dominates Christian thinking at the present moment – “you have to support the cause.” We can look at our empty pews and we can say to ourselves, “Why don’t people support the cause.” Then I say to myself, “What kind of cause are we thinking about?” I can say, “Is its primary characteristic that it needs support?” I have seen old oak trees, 300 years old, and the groundsmen have cut supports that hold up their ancient boughs and branches because the tree is no longer strong enough to support itself. It needs support, and I say to myself, “Is that how I see the kingdom of God? Is that how Jesus describes the kingdom, like a plant that grows but it can no longer support itself and we have to design ways of keeping it alive, preventing it from breaking up and dying? Is the cause one that we have to give our energy to in order that it is not destroyed?”

What does Jesus say here? The birds of the air come from far and wide, from Europe and Africa, Asia and America and what do they do? Do they cluck and quack and fuss as they try to support the branches? No. Jesus tells us that the tree has “such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade” (v.32). The birds don’t support the tree, the tree supports the birds. “Such big branches,” Jesus says. What simple words, and what hope is in them. Do I support the cause or does the cause support me? If our religion is a burden to us; if the church is a burden to us; if my conviction today is that the Lord’s work is a burden then there has taken place the most appalling reversal of biblical proportions and priorities. Ask not what can I do to support the struggling cause, but consider what this mighty cause can do for me.

Are we evaluating the cause correctly? Are we looking at it from the perspective of these 12 disciples anxiously looking at Jesus sitting in a boat and facing a hostile crowd and thinking of how unknown and weak he is and doubting whether it has any future? If we are then we have forgotten the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and the ascension, and Christ’s reign at the right hand of God, and the way he pours out his Spirit and builds his church. I want to say to you that this cause doesn’t need the support of a bunch of speckled birds. I do not think that it is spoken of in those terms anywhere in the New Testament. It is a supporting tree of invincible strength and eternal durability. It is an encouraging cause. It has the most magnificent power to transform human life and potential. It is a great invigorating kingdom.

We have to get back time and again to the basic emphasis that grace is power. Grace is God’s invincible determination to fill the earth with the knowledge of his dear Son’s glory. I want to say to you that the most irresistible force in the whole human universe today is the Christian cause, not because it is advocated by those millions, or defended by great men, but because its king and builder and protector has all authority in heaven and on earth. How I wish we could see our Christian position in those terms. I wish we could grasp God’s grace not as the most attractive flower in God’s garden but as the most vigorous, powerful and dominant force in the universe of God. We have no right to think of the cause in terms of what we have to do for it. We have to think of it in terms of what the Lord Christ has done for us, and say to ourselves, “Look, we don’t support the mustard tree. The mustard tree supports us!”

We have to remind ourselves that in these last days the sovereignty is upon the shoulders of King Jesus, and try to banish our despair as to the growth of the church because the one building it is the risen reigning Lord. I must be convinced that the Lamb of God is in the midst of the throne. Let’s see the unfrustratableness of God’s determination to save. Let us see the invincibleness of grace. Let us see the position of absolute eminence and total control that belongs today to the person of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who once sat in a boat on Galilee and told us that his kingdom was like a mustard seed.

It should give us the most dynamic thrust to evangelism. A friend of mine who has just commenced his ministry was recently on vacation and he attended Penzance Baptist Church. There he heard a visiting minister encouraging the congregation with a sermon on the Great Commission, “All authority has been given to me, so go into all the world,” and saying to them three things. One: there can be no uncertainty as to the outcome of evangelism, because, Two: there is no limit to the power of the one who says that all authority in heaven and earth is given to him, and therefore, Three: there should be no hesitation in Christian commitment to reaching the lost. That is the conclusion that this parable of the mighty mustard seed should take us.

Do you see the birds of the air coming and perching in this tree – just as the Old Testament prophets prophesied? Millions and millions of birds coming and landing on the millions of branches of this tree and still there is room. They are all singing exquisitely and the sound takes your breath away. It brings a lump to your throat. There are birds from the jungles of Brazil, and the plains of China, and the Rocky Mountains and the Australian outback. They are of every colour, age group, level of intelligence, every kind of personality, every trade and profession. The grace of Christ has drawn them to perch in the shade of the mustard seed that Christ sowed and watered with his own blood. Many from the north and south and east and west, and they are singing together a new song, all this vast company, every single one of them is singing, everyone is glorified, transformed, changed into Christ’s image. It is the sound of many voices.

Who would not fear at that sight? Who would not fear at that sound? All the nations in their countless millions, in praise singing in perfect harmony the song of the Lamb. There is the greatness of the tree from such humble origins, and the response of the whole church is to shelter in its shade. Then there is this great question, how do you respond? Do you come and sing your praise there too? Have you come to him? You say you’re not Christians. You are not born again. You are not believers, you say. You say, as many say today, that religion doesn’t turn you on. It’s all right if it turns me on, but it does nothing for you. Yet you are here today. How are you going to respond to the greatest and most powerful reality in the universe? I must respond to it. I cannot ignore the Taj Mahal when I stand before it. I cannot ignore the Niagara Falls when I hear the sound and see the sight of its many waters. When I am confronted by ranges of the snow-capped Himalayas brilliant in the sunlight then what do I say? I must say something! They are not being judged. I am being judged by my response to them.

Here is the glorious mustard tree the greatest of all the trees of the forest, and it is filled with millions of singing birds, and the sight and sound is awesome. I can respond to that by closing my eyes, and by thrusting my fingers in my ears, and by refusing to see or hear this sight. I can respond with contempt, or by almost tempting God and saying, “Well, if it is so great, let God prove it.” May I not ask will everyone of us not respond today by personally worshipping this Lord Christ? He is the King of the nations. He is your King. Won’t you worship your King? There is this urgent demand to decision and response and commitment. We are not being asked as a congregation to support the cause more faithfully but the question is whether Christ dwells in us and supports us through life. How do we know this? When we fear him and glorify him and make him our shade and protection from sin and death. Who would not fear and glorify thee? There is room for you to come and sing his praise. You can find a space on this tree for you to be secure for ever. The most hardened sinner, the most proud sceptic, the little wren – every one of us. We must say to ourselves, “Will I not come? Will I refuse? Will I not fly to Christ and lodge in him and be safe for ever?

18th May 2003 GEOFF THOMAS