The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost July 5, 2015

INI

How the Kingdom of God Grows

Mark 4:26-34

Scripture Readings

Acts 11:19-26
1 John 4:1-11
John 15:1-8

Hymns

246, 351, 245, 47

And [Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.

In the name of the One True God, the God of Scripture, who alone has the power to make everything grow, dear friends:

The text for last Sunday was John 15:1-8. In it Jesus used the simple, agricultural analogy of a vine and its branches to teach the importance of staying connected to Him by faith. As a branch derives everything from the vine, so we too derive everything from Christ. From Him we obtain life and salvation. Through Him we bear abundant fruit, that is, lead godly and productive lives. Apart from Him we die—are nothing, have nothing, can do nothing.

In today’s text, Mark 4:26-34, Jesus used two more agricultural examples to teach another important spiritual truth, namely, HOW THE KINGDOM OF GOD GROWS. This is an important lesson for every pastor, every teacher, every missionary, every Christian congregation and every member in that congregation; for every parent worried about the spirituality and faith of a child, and every child worried about a parent; for every husband and wife desiring to save or enrich their marriage; for every Christian looking for the strength to endure a difficult situation. In summary, this is an important lesson for every believer undertaking any endeavor within the kingdom of God.

I.

The kingdom of God—Jesus also used the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven”—has nothing to do with earthly kings or visible kingdoms or geographic locations with specific boundary lines, or national currency, standing armies, passports, or Gross Domestic Product. This was the type of external, visible kingdom of God the Jews expected of their Messiah.

However, the kingdom of God Jesus described was vastly different from earthly kingdoms, and He often described God’s kingdom using parables, such as the two in today’s text. For example, in Matthew 13:44 Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a treasure buried in the field. Notice, a buried treasure—not the gaudy, public display of power, wealth, and military parades so characteristic of earthly kingdoms.

In Matthew 13:47 Jesus likened the Kingdom of Heaven to a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish, that is, a kingdom composed not of one race or social class, but rather of people from all races and places and social conditions: rich and poor, young and old, male and female, Jews and Gentiles.

How Jesus must have stunned His listeners when He taught that great wealth could hinder entrance into God’s kingdom because of the temptation to trust in wealth instead of trusting in God. He told His disciples in Matthew 19: “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God(NIV).

How Jesus must have stunned His listeners when he taught that God’s kingdom was entered through childlike faith. “Let the little children come to me,” said Jesus in Mark 10, “and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it(NIV).

Simply put, the kingdom of God is the gracious rule or government of God within the human heart. This is why Jesus stated in Luke 17:21, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you(NIV).

How then does the Kingdom of God grow? What part, if any, do we as Christians play in that growth? Do we have the call or power to make anyone believe in Christ as Lord and Savior? Jesus answered these questions in the two parables of today’s text, recorded in Mark 4:26-34.

And [Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.

So, how does the kingdom of God grow? According to today’s text, the growth of God’s kingdom begins with the scattering of seed. Note what Jesus said first in Mark 4:26, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.” Jesus used this same illustration in Mark 4:1-20, the familiar parable of the Sower and the Seed.

When the Lord’s disciples failed to understand the meaning of the Sower and the Seed, Jesus patiently explained that the seed being sown was the Word of God. He said in Mark 4:13, “The farmer sows the Word.” So the seed in all three parables of Mark 4—the Sower and the Seed, the Growing Seed, and the Mustard Seed—represents the word of God. What does this tell us about growth in the kingdom of God? It tells us that everything begins with the “scattering of the seed;” that is, with the sharing of God’s Word.

As Christians, you and I have but one responsibility in the growth of God’s kingdom; and that one responsibility is to “scatter the seed of the Scriptures.” Individually, we are to let the light of our faith shine forth in what we do and say—at home, at work, in the voting booth. In fact, Jesus alluded to this type of individual witnessing in Mark 4:21, saying, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand?(NIV).

Even the way we love and treat one another is a way of “planting the seeds” of the Gospel. As Jesus told his disciples in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” However, the specific role of the Christian Church collectively is not to be a Political Action Committee or Standing Army, but simply to “scatter the seed of God’s Word.” All of us know the Great Commission of Jesus: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go thereforeand make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen(Matthew 28:18-20).

Each time you share the Word of God, each time you read a family devotion or take a friend to church, each time you comfort a mourner with the Gospel, each time you teach your children right from wrong, and remind them how much God loves them and what God has done in Christ to redeem them—each time you are scattering the seed of God’s Word.

If you don’t view this scattering of seed as a wondrous privilege and serious responsibility, consider again that growth in the Kingdom of God begins with seed-planting, with sharing the Gospel. Consider that faith in God is only created and only grows and only bears fruit through the Word of God. Scripture teaches this very clearly. Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

In nature, there can be no plant without planting a seed. Isn’t this true? What is true agriculturally is also true spiritually—the reason why Jesus used this very example from nature. God has privileged us as Christians to scatter the seeds of his Gospel in our homes, relationships, careers, congregations and to do so from local neighborhoods to distant mission fields. Planting the seed, sharing the Word, is the first important aspect of how the Kingdom of God grows.

II.

The second aspect of how the Kingdom of God grows is equally important, namely, understanding who makes the kingdom of God grow. It isn’t us. It is God. Does that disappoint you, or does that relieve you?

So often we are willing to share the Word of God, but then assume it is within our power or calling to create belief and change human behavior. This is as true of pastors as it is of congregational members. However, none of us has this power, but God does and He exercises his power through His Word. So the second great characteristic of how the Kingdom of God grows is this: While we scatter the seed, God is the one who makes every seed grow. God makes the seed grow, grow up, grow mature, and produce abundant fruit.

This is very obvious from nature, isn’t it? How many of you have planted a seed before? No doubt, everyone. Exactly what did you do to make the seed grow? Yes, you selected the ideal location. You scooped out the soil. You dropped in the seed and covered it with dirt. You watered, weeded, and fertilized. But what did you actually do to make the seed grow? And the answer is, nothing. The power to grow lay within the seed itself.

Isn’t this the point of the parable of the Growing Seed? Notice what Jesus said in verses 26-28: “A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.(NIV). “All by itself”—the Greek word is automatos, the source of our English “automatic”—“the soil produces grain.

Tell me what part the farmer in Christ’s parable played in growing the seed? Night or day, awake or asleep, he had nothing to do with growing the seed or producing the fruit. God did the work; and he gathered the harvest. What a relief. What a blessing. When will you and I learn to stop “playing God?” When will we learn how things are fully and finally accomplished within the Kingdom of God? The operative words there are not “kingdom” but “of God.”

Said differently, a seed does not grow because of us, but in spite of us. The same is true of the Word of God. Just as the power to grow lies in the seed itself and not the farmer, so also the power to grow faith and change behavior and fix problems lies not in the one who shares the Word of God, but in the Word of God that is shared, and to this Scripture bears abundant testimony.

Simon Peter wrote in his first epistle, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God(1 Peter 1:21 NIV). James wrote in his epistle, “He chose to give us birth through the Word of Truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created(James 1:18 NIV). Paul wrote to the Colossians, “All over the world this Gospel is bearing fruit and growing(Colossians 1:6 NIV).

Of all the people whose lives were changed by Paul’s ministry, of all the people who came to profess Christ through Paul’s teaching, Paul understood that no congregation, no Christian, no hope, and no faith was due to his personality or wisdom. Rather, every success of his ministry was due solely to the power of God. Using words strikingly reminiscent of today’s text, Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “I planted the seed, Apollos water it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes everything grow(1 Corinthians 3:6-7 NIV).

I understand how small the Word of God can seem when confronting life’s bigger heartaches and problems and challenges. The apparent smallness of the Word is implied in the image of a seed, and not just any seed, but a mustard seed. In the world of gardening, what is smaller, more ordinary-looking, and less promising than a tiny mustard seed? In the real world, what appears smaller, more ordinary-looking, and less promising than the family Bible? And yet, there is no greater power on earth to make things grow—from a struggling faith to a struggling marriage— because the power in the seed of Scripture is God’s.

How did God create the universe in all of its glory and vastness? Through His Word. How did Jesus heal the ten lepers and cure the centurion’s servant? Through His Word. How did Jesus calm the tempestuous storm on Lake Galilee? Through His Word. How did Jesus raise from the dead Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow of Nain? Through His Word. Whom did Jesus call “the wise builder?” The builder who built his house and life on the Word of God. How did Jesus promise to grow His Church? Through His Word. “On this rock,” He said in Matthew 16, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it(Matthew 16:18).

We may not believe we’re sharing much when we share our love for Jesus. We may not believe we’re offering much when we offer the comfort of Scripture to a friend or even a stranger who has lost a loved one. We may not believe we’re accomplishing much through our congregation’s ministry. We may not believe any of these things because we don’t always see the “fruit” or the “harvest” from the Gospel seeds we’ve planted.

But God is working through the ministry of our congregation and God is working through our individual witnessing. How can I be so sure of this? Yes, first and foremost, because God tells me so in Scripture, declaring in Isaiah 55: “As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it(Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV).

But I’m also sure that God is consistently and powerfully working through His Word for yet another reason, and you are that reason. You are here in church today because somewhere, sometime, someplace, someone—a parent, relative, friend, pastor, teacher, or even stranger—planted a Gospel seed in you, and God made it grow.

We plant the seeds. God does the cultivating, pruning, and growing. This is HOW THE KINGDOM OF GOD GROWS.

—Pastor P. Mark Weis


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