Pentecost 4 (4)
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Mark 4:26-34 (NIV) 26 He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain--first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come." 30 Again he said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when 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." 33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
Have you ever seen the logo on this hat? It is for a seed company in Randolph, WI. It is named after its founder J.W. Jung (Young) who started growing plants in his mothers kitchen window and who formed a company in 1907 which produces over the years garden seeds, shrubs, trees, and farm seeds such as corn and soybeans. As part of their development, the people in the company who really know seeds and how they work would create hybrid seeds for a number of specific applications. There are people who do know how a seed sprouts and grows and produces flowers, fruits, vegetables, more seeds etc.
But not everyone who works for Jungs or buys and plants seeds knows all of that. But what we do know is that if we plant a seed at the right time and under the right conditions, we should expect it to sprout, grow, and produce in a certain amount of time. Mankind has been planting seeds and watching plants grow since the beginning of time.
Genesis 4:2–3 (NIV84) Later Eve gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. Bible history has numerous examples of growing, harvesting, and eating grain throughout it.
It should come as no surprise then that one of the subjects of Jesus parables would be that of seeds. Here we have two short parables involving seeds that demonstrate two types of growth in the kingdom of God.
Jesus would often use these earthly stories with heavenly meaning to illustrate what the kingdom of God (Christ’s rule in our hearts) was like. The story is straight forward. We picture a man sowing seeds (usually by a broadcast method) and then anticipating the growth and harvest. A scientist likes to explore how something works. There is a scientific explanation behind the whole process of sprouting, growing, and maturing. The farmer doesn’t necessarily concern himself with that. He trusts that the seed he sows will produce the crop he desires. He trusts, but he also acts.
In order for that seed to sprout etc., what has to be done with it? It has to be planted. I found this bit of trivia. The oldest mature seed that has grown into a viable plant was a Judean date palm seed about 2,000 years old, recovered from excavations at Herod the Great's palace on Masada in Israel. It had been preserved in a cool, dry place, not by freezing. It was germinated in 2005. If you don’t plant the seed, it isn’t going to sprout.
Since this parable is teaching us about the growth of those who believe the Word of God, we understand that even though God’s Word is powerful and effective, it needs to be sown to do its work. A Bible on the coffee table or on the book shelf or on an app on our Smart phone doesn’t do anything if it is not read from or heard.
Romans 10:8–15 (NIV84)
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
So like the farmer who sows the seed, we proclaim the word to ourselves and to others.
What happens then? Jesus reassures us that it will be productive. We recall God’s promise in Isaiah:
Isaiah 55:10–11 (NIV84)
10 As the rain and the 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, 11 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.
We have had the word of God proclaimed to us and continue to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. We realize that there is power in the word and that it affects what we believe and do. We often pray for this. Almighty God, we thank your for teaching us the things you want us to believe and do. Help us by your Holy Spirit to keep your Word in pure hearts that we may be strengthened in faith, guided in holiness, and comforted in life and in death. We also trust that through His Word, God will lead us to be even more productive Christians.
Transition. Jesus teaches that we will grow inwardly when we accept the word that is planted in us. James applies this in James 1:19–25 (NIV84) 19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
The second short parable teaches about the outward growth of the church in the world. Mark 4:30–32 (NIV84)
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when 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.”
He said this at a time that called for great trust in God. Christianity is the fulfillment of Old Testament Judaism for those who believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Ideally, all those under the Old Covenant would have accepted this and been converted to Christianity but we know that not everyone (in fact the majority) did not believe that Jesus was the Christ from the Jewish religion and that at the time of his ascension, the number of believers what very small. But over the course of time that would change. On Pentecost there were 120 gathered together before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit but later that day 3000 were added. Another number in Acts of growth is 5000. We read of congregations starting and growing throughout the book of Acts. Although the church did not keep statistics like many modern church bodies do, we can look back and see how the church has grown and spread throughout the world the past 2000 years. It started small and has indeed grown. Another parable (that of the sower and the seeds) teaches that we can never expect 100% inclusion. Elsewhere Jesus warns that the way to heaven is narrow compared to the way to destruction and that few follow the way to heaven. There are more non Christians in the world than Christians. But the kingdom of God has certainly grown and although it seems to be on the decline dramatically in well established areas, it is growing outwardly in other parts of the world. A record number of Americans no longer attend religious services..no longer believe in God.
Although not the main point of this parable, Jesus concludes with this statement. Mark 4:32 (NIV84)
32 Yet when 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.”
We all know how it can be more pleasant and protected to be in the shade especially on a day of heat and intense sunlight. This reminds us of God’s use of the idea of shade to protect his people.
5 The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; 8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
22 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the field will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. “ ‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’ ”
In the Christian church which has grown large over the years, we can find protection from harm from our God who saves us. Amen.