#20: Kingdom Parables
June 14, 2020
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TEXT: Mark 4:26-32 – "And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; 27 And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. 28 For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. 29 But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come. 30 And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: 32 But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.".
B. Illus. – When I was an associate pastor in the U.S., I always had a vegetable garden.
1. I would take little seeds, plant them in the ground, wait till they sprouted, weed the garden, water when necessary, and finally we would bring in the harvest.
2. In doing that, I learned some things about gardening and farming that are universal.
D. In our text today are two parables about seeds, and they describe things that every gardener or farmer knows and understands.
E. Both parables have the theme of “this is what the kingdom of God is like.”
1. They illustrate the character of the coming kingdom of God.
2. The common thread of them is that the presence of Jesus on earth signaled the release of mysterious forces of God which began small, but would grow on earth and will eventually culminate in the full majesty and rule of God in all the earth and heavens.
G. It seems hard to believe that two short parables could reveal so much, but they teach us amazing, even surprising, things about the kingdom of God.
H. Let’s launch into Mark 4:26-32 and see what these two parables teach us.
I. IN VERSES 26-29 WE HAVE THE PARABLE OF THE GROWING SEED.
This parable has the distinction of being the only parable unique to Mark and not found in any of the other gospels. Broken down, Jesus teaches three things about the kingdom of God in this parable.
1) Note first of all in verse 26 that THE FARMER SOWS – “And he said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should cast seed into the ground”
Now before we go on, let that verse sink into your mind for a moment. You would think the kingdom of God should be compared to something great and grandiose. But Jesus compares it to SEEDS, the most banal and humble of things He could have likened it to.
James R. Edwards says, “The paradox of the gospel—indeed, the scandal of the Incarnation—is disguised in such commonplaces. The God whom Jesus introduces will not be kept at celestial arm’s length. Jesus does not tell us how high and lofty God is but how very near and present he is, and how the routines of planting and harvesting are mundane clues to the nature and plan of God.”
As in the Parable of the Soils, this parable starts with a sower who scatters the seed. There is no harvest if sowers do not sow the seed into the ground. Jesus is saying that there is a part for us to do. There’s a part only God can do, but there’s a role for us too. Part of our role is to sow the seed, and there’s more for us to do, as we’ll see.
2) In verses 27-28, we see that it is GOD who GROWS the seed – “And should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, he knows not how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full grain in the ear.”
Jesus compares the kingdom of God to the process of growth. Several phrases give us key insights into the growth of God’s kingdom.
• First, Jesus tells us that the growth of the kingdom of God is NOT ALWAYS DISCERNABLE – Verse 27a – “And should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows…”
The farmer rises night and day, all the while unaware of an amazing process playing out in the ground. By some unknown process scientists still do not understand, the seed literally dies and then comes to life as a tiny plant. The farmer does not see any of this; it’s all invisible, unseen and takes time to occur.
Illus. – I remember in my garden trying to teach our oldest son, Chris, about plants and how they grow. I told him all about how the seeds sprout into plants, how they grow and develop, and in the end, we have vegetables to eat. So I let him plant some watermelon seeds and some squash seeds.
The next day, as soon as he got up, he raced outside to look at the garden…but there were no plants coming up yet. This went on for several days, with the same disappointing results.
After 6-7 days, when Chris’s little store of patience was almost about to run out, one day he rushed into the house shouting, “Mommy, Daddy, a plant came up! Come and look.” We went out and sure enough, there was the tiny little sprout barely showing above the soil, the first of many to come.
All those days, he had assumed nothing was happening. But something WAS happening. When the soil conditions were just right, the seed split and a tiny stem sprouted out and grew up and out of the soil.
Jesus was teaching that much of what God is doing is unnoticeable to us, as He secretly works in people’s hearts and as He moves humans, rulers and nations toward certain goals and directions for the advancement of His kingdom. All we can see is the outward budding of the stem, so to speak, not the dynamic work done in the earth—that is, the often unseen working of God in the world. Sometimes we see what He is doing, but most of God’s work is like an iceberg where we can only see a little above the water, but below the surface, God is doing more than we can conceive.
• Second, Jesus teaches us that the process of growth in God’s kingdom is solely dependent on God. – Verse 27b – “and the seed sprouts and grows, he knows not how.”
The farmer cannot make the seed grow. In fact, he does not even know HOW it grows.
The secret of life is still a secret today, despite all of scientists’ discoveries and achievements. The biologist can dissect the seed and expose and name its various parts. The geneticist can go even deeper into the structure of things and define the seed’s genetic code. He can clone and produce identical plants. He can breed and produce hybrid plants. But if no life is there, it’s all in vain. The basic law of biology states, “Life only comes from life.” And ultimately, all life comes from God.”
Jesus teaches us here that God’s kingdom is HIS doing from start to finish. We don’t even know HOW, but God is growing His kingdom.
• Third, Jesus tells us that the growth of God’s kingdom is unstoppable. – Verse 28 – “For the earth yields crops by itself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full grain in the ear.”
The phrase, “by itself” is the Greek word automáte from which we get our word, “automatic.” Jesus teaches that His work has a set course that is automatic, inevitable.
The farmer plants his field and then leaves it for what only God can do—grow the seeds into plants. One day, while going about other duties, he comes back to his field, and low and behold, the miracle has happened!—There are little wheat plants shooting up everywhere! The wheat stems sprout long, slender leaves. Then by some mysterious process determined by God in the DNA, the stem sprouts the fuzzy heads, which Jesus calls “ears,” containing kernels of wheat, which Jesus calls the “grain.”
All of this happens automatically, without any intervention by the farmer. How?— The farmer does not know, nor does he need to know. He just knows that it does.
So it is with the kingdom of God. We cannot understand how God is building and maintaining His kingdom now nor His future Kingdom in the afterlife. But God is carrying out His will and plan such that it is automatically occurring right on schedule.
3) Next, note that the farmer BRINGS IN THE HARVEST. – Verse 29 – “But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Now the farmer gets involved again. God works the miracle of growing the crop, but now it’s the farmer’s responsibility to reap the harvest. God grows the seed, but the farmer sows the seed and reaps the crop. God does His part, but He does not do what is ours to do.
In Bible days, there was a lot to do when the harvest came. First, the grain had to be cut with sickles, gathered into bundles, and then pounded and threshed to break apart the chaff from the grain. Once the wheat is threshed it had to be winnowed, the sorting of worthless chaff from the useable grain by throwing the wheat into the air, blowing away the chaff, leaving the heavier grain on the ground.
This all reminds us again that in the kingdom of God, God does only what He can do, and He uses you and me to do what is ours to do. Our first part is to sow the seed of God’s Word. – We should sow it far and wide, for we do not know who the seed will find a lodging place in to grow.
What happens next is God’s part. How God brings His kingdom into existence and maintains it or how He brings people into His kingdom is a mystery to us. We can no more grow faith in people’s hearts than we can make a seed germinate.
But after God has done His part—growing faith in people’s hearts—we again get to have a part by bringing in God’s harvest.
We bring them into the church and the people of God.
We teach them the importance of believer’s baptism.
We teach them the commandments of Christ and the Bible’s doctrines.
We lead them away from the temptations of this world.
We exhort them to faithfulness and perseverance.
We rebuke them when they go astray.
There’s a LOT of cutting and bundling and hauling and threshing and winnowing that is ours to do as part of the harvest in God’s kingdom. That’s how God has chosen to build His kingdom: We have roles and He has a role.
II. IN VERSES 30-32 WE HAVE THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed is similar in meaning to the Parable of the Growing Seed, although the point of the mustard seed lies in CONTRAST rather than in growth.
We notice three things this parable teaches us about the kingdom of God.
1) First, the kingdom of God is inauspicious in its beginnings – Verses 30-31 – “And he said, ‘To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what comparison shall we compare it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds in the earth.”
In Palestine, the smallest seed visible to the naked eye was the mustard seed. It takes 725-760 seeds to weigh a gram (which is 1/27th of an ounce).
So imagine the astonishment of Jesus’ hearers when they heard this comparison. When the Jews thought of Messiah’s kingdom, they had visions of a vast empire, a majestic palace, an ornate throne, a glittering court, long lines of people waiting for an audience, ambassadors from many nations, and an invincible army at the command of a powerful, magnificent king. This comparison by Jesus must have come as a shock to His audience. God’s kingdom is like a mustard seed?—a seed so tiny you could hardly see it?
You would have thought He would have compared the kingdom to one of the great cedars or Lebanon, a symbol of might and splendor. – But the mystery of the kingdom is not present in the cedar; it is present in the tiny mustard seed. The point of this parable was to show the contrast between the size of the seed when it is sown and the size of the plant when it is grown. The kingdom of God would begin small and inauspiciously, but it would grow in inconceivable ways.
2). Next, Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of God would be grandiose in its culmination. – verse 32a – “But when it is sown, it grows up, and becomes greater than all the garden plants,…”
From one tiny, almost microscopic seed, the mustard plant is the largest of the garden plants. It’s a bush that usually grows to about 20 feet in height, and can grow as tall as 30 feet, and generally has a spread of about 20 feet—huge when you consider each bush comes from such a tiny seed.
Jesus was telling His disciples that His kingdom would arise from obscurity and insignificance to power and glory. The kingdom of God, which encompasses the Church in addition to His rulership of all the universe, is inconceivably vast. We only see a little bit and the state of the world around us, so we underrate the immensity of what God is doing in the world.
Never underestimate the power and glory of the kingdom of God!
On the Day of Pentecost alone, five thousand souls were born into that kingdom.
Think of how many people have been saved every day since that day!
The Holy Spirit Himself superintends the work, and He cannot fail, no matter what people do.
3) Finally, Jesus teaches that the kingdom of God would be extraordinary in its influence in the second part of verse 32 – “and shoots out large branches; so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.’”
Because of the mighty mustard bush, not only does it provide a tasty spice for human consumption, but many birds find shade and shelter in its broad branches. In other words, it has positive benefits for people and for animals.
Again, this symbolizes for us the kingdom of God. The influence of God’s Kingdom is incalculable. Despite its flaws, it has inspired much of the world’s greatest art, architecture, music and drama. But that doesn’t even scratch the surface. John Phillips says this about the influence of Christianity in our world:
Everywhere the kingdom of God has gone, it has brought with it hospitals and schools; truth, morality, and ethics; decency and compassion; and, above all, salvation. Wherever the gospel has gone, it has abolished cannibalism, child sacrifice, the immolation of widows, polygamy, demonism, slavery, and a thousand other such ills. It has built orphanages and asylums, cared for the sick, comforted the bereaved, and helped the infirm. In many lands, even secular governments have taken color from its creeds. Even the unsaved have found shelter beneath its branches and found comfort and a better lifestyle in its shade.
In these two parables, Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of God is unstoppable, it grows at God’s pace and design, and it’s vast and incalculably good for our world and for society. When we study these glorious truths, three things are laid upon us in response:
1) First, be PATIENT as you do your part in the kingdom of God.
We cannot do what God can do, but we can do what we are called to do. We are called to sow and reap.
The problem is that when we sow seeds in people’s lives, we want to see immediate results in the kingdom of God. We want them to be saved today—NOW! In fact, we cannot understand how they cannot see the urgency of the decision and why they don’t turn to God now.
But each person’s heart is a particular kind of soil when we sow the seeds of God’s Word, and we cannot know the effect the Word will have in their lives, or when the effect will take place. Some seeds will fall on hard hearts, some on shallow hearts and some on crowded hearts, but praise God, some will fall on good, receptive, willing hearts.
But today’s hard or shallow or crowded heart might be good and receptive a year from now or ten years from now and perhaps someone else will nurture the seed and that person will come to Christ. What you may not realize is that the work you did earlier had a part in cultivating and nurturing the soil of that person’s heart and you’ll have done your part because you sowed the seed earlier. It’s between them and God what happens next. Your job is to sow and to be patient.
Patience is required for those who have been “harvested” too—those who have come to Christ in faith. Their heart is immediately transformed but their mind, will and emotions are running on the muscle memory of old habits. It takes years of patient application of God’s Word into someone’s life before a full garden of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faithfulness and self-control are clearly evident in every area of a believer’s life.
Again, it is the Spirit who forms these things in believers’ lives. That’s His job. Our job is just to preach and plead and teach and disciple and love and exhort and admonish those who have come into the kingdom of God. All that is part of harvesting, and it too takes patience and faith in God’s power to grow and change people.
2) My second application is this: Be HOPEFUL as you serve in the kingdom of God.
Many believers are living in a spirit of despair. They see the sin around us in society, the sad state of many of our churches, the worldliness of many believers, and the sorrowful direction of our country.
Take heart!—God is still in control! Satan is being given sway to do certain things on earth, but the kingdom of God is unquenchable and unconquerable and goes forward according to God’s plan. The question isn’t Is God still working but How can I get in on what God’s up to? The ways you can be involved in the kingdom of God to do your part are innumerable. Just being a seed-sower everywhere you go is one way. Living a life of truth and integrity is another. Loving people and meeting their needs is yet another.
Getting involved in church ministry is one of the most fulfilling and most tangible ways to do your part. You feel directly a part of serving in God’s kingdom when you find a place to serve in your local church. Whereas often in the world we don’t immediately see the invisible work God is doing in peoples’ hearts…in the church you often do. You see the light bulb of understanding of a biblical truth go off in a child’s mind when you teach them the Word of God. You won’t visibly see much more than happy and unhappy babies in the nursery, but you’ll know that because of your volunteering to do childcare, some mother and father will hear God’s Word preached in the service undistracted…and their neighbors will hear too! There doesn’t seem to be much “spiritual” about greeting people as they come in, but you know that by serving in that capacity you’re helping them feel welcome and accepted in our church; making them more receptive to the preaching of God’s Word.
Take heart!—God IS doing great things today! His work goes on; His kingdom is unstoppable. If America closes to the Gospel, don’t worry, He’s working in incredible ways in Third World countries, and in Muslim countries and in communist countries.
GOD…WILL…BUILD…HIS…KINGDOM, and He wants you to be a hopeful and encouraged and faith-filled part of it.
3) Last, if you’re not in the kingdom of God, COME TO JESUS TODAY!
If you’ve never come to that place of realization of sin and realized that Jesus died on the cross to pay your penalty for sin, turn to Jesus today as your only hope of salvation.
Has someone planted the seed of God’s Word in your heart and are you longing to know God? Then come to Jesus in faith. Give your life to Him Surrender to His will in your life. Recognize Him as your sin-bearer and the only one who can save you and give you eternal life and put you in right relation with God.