As we study the parables of Jesus we will see that there are some parables that talk to us about the way we should live. Some of these stories are designed to warn us of dangers. And some, like the two parables we look at today are meant to teach us about the nature and work of God. Both parables set out to teach us, “What the Kingdom of God is like.” In these two parables we are going to learn a couple of very important truths. In fact these are truths I think you are going to find very freeing.
Listen to these words one more time from Mark 4:26-32,
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. 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. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”Again he 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 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.”
Note two things,
True Spiritual Growth Comes from God and Not from Us
Jesus uses the illustration of a farmer once again. This farmer goes out into the field each year and plants his seed. He prepares the ground and tends the seed but he has no idea why or how the seed grows to produce a crop. The fertile soil and a healthy seed combine to do something that the mind does not understand. In fact, the Greek word for “by itself” in verse 28 is the word, “automate” The crop seems to grow automatically.
This is the way it is with God’s Kingdom. You and I share the truth of the gospel with those who are around us and then that seed begins to grow. God’s spirit begins to work in a human heart and slowly draws the individual to Him. We see it in our own lives as well. As we expose ourselves to the truth we find ourselves being changed by it. Often we can’t explain it. We don’t cause growth . . . He does.
Archibald Hunter summarizes it well,
Jesus is saying, “It’s no good to shout or to shove. The work is God’s. Leave the issue to him. A new divine force has been released in the world, and grow it will, as surely as the sown seed, by the gracious ministry of God’s sun and rain, ripens to the harvest.
A parable of ‘agricultural grace’ we might call it. When a distinguished American surgeon was asked upon what he relied when he operated, he answered, ‘medical grace’. By this he meant that recuperative and healing power in the human body which, like the seed in the parable, works ‘by itself’, and without which all his professional expertise with the knife would be vain. [Archibald Hunter, The Parables Then and Now (Philadelphia: Westminster 1971) p.40]
This may not seem like it is all that significant but think about it. Consider those who seek to advance the Kingdom of God by their military force. Christians sought to bring the Kingdom to others through the Crusades and Muslim extremists try to advance the Kingdom through their holy wars. And some people we know (maybe even people we see in the mirror) seek to advance God’s kingdom through manipulation, legislation, or other means of intimidation. Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom does not advance by the force of men, but by the power and grace of God.
Three Important Lessons
There are a couple of implications from this parable. First, The growth of the Kingdom does not depend on us. I hope you hear this clearly. If you do, it takes a great load off your shoulders. The growth of the Kingdom of God does not depend on you living a perfect life, or on your ability to proclaim the gospel message. We are called to do our part. But our job is to plant the seed . . . God is the one that makes it grow.
Second, in light of this fact, we should rely more on prayer than technique. Since God is the one who brings change and transformation we should spend more time asking God to change hearts and lives and less time trying to find a gimmick that will get a person to do what we want them to do and say what we want them to say.
Think about it. How much time do you spend praying for your friends and relatives who have no desire for the things of God? How much time do you spend asking God to change the hearts and lives of the people you know? How much time to you spend asking God to work through this church and through your own life? If you want to see more people come to faith, you should spend more time with the one who can bring faith to life in a heart.
Third, we should be patient. The farmer plants the seed and then has to wait many months before the harvest. They must wait in the dry times, they must wait in the wet times, they must wait even though there are predictions of great storms. They must be wait in the knowledge that you can’t take a crop out until it is ready to be harvested.
So it is with the unbeliever. We should plant seeds. We should seek to answer any questions that the person has. We should work hard at living consistent lives as an example to our friends. But when all is said and done we must wait for the harvest. When a crop first begins to grow you do not even notice it. The growth begins in the soil. And the same is true of a new believer. You don’t notice the change of heart at first. You don’t see that first spark of interest. You can’t see their appetite changing . . . but it is happening. Don’t give up! Let God do His work.
You remember the story of the lad who went and bought some seeds. He followed the directions and put the seeds in the soil and faithfully watered the seed. After several weeks he returned to the place where he bought the seed and wanted to get his money back. The dealer was confused and asked for details about how the seed was planted. Everything sounded right until the boy shared that every morning he dug up the seed to see if anything was happening!
When we badger, nag, harass, and push others we are digging up the seed! Our job is to prepare the soil, plant the seed, and water it. And then we must let God do what only God can do in a human heart. We need to be faithful and then relax and trust God’s ability.
I’m not saying that we are to be passive. The passage does not begin with the words, “and a farmer went to sleep”. The farmer cannot produce growth but there are some things the farmer can and needs to do to encourage growth. Like the farmer, there are things we must do. First, we must prepare the ground. We do this by building bridges with people.
Christian people can’t merely gather around in their holy huddles and wait for God to change the world. We must prepare the soil by showing people the effect of the Kingdom of God in our lives. We can help prepare the hearts of those around us by our acts of kindness, by our enduring love, by the way we treat our enemies and by our involvement with those who hurt. Jesus understood this. He healed people, He extended compassion, He showed that He was the one to meet their needs. This helped the people receive and believe the message of salvation. You and I prepare the soil when we get out into the world and love as Jesus loved.
If you have no non-Christian contacts, you need to expand your circle of friends! You need to be trying to build bridges with others. You do this in the hope and prayer that somewhere along the way you will have the opportunity to tell this friend the most important news they will ever hear.
Second, we do need to plant the seed. The seed may automatically grow when it gets into the ground but it does have to get into the ground! If Jesus had only extended compassion and love to those around Him He would have probably still become famous, like Mother Teresa, but no one would have seen Him as the Savior who could set us free from our past and our sinful nature.
Our job is to share the message of salvation. It is God’s job to cause that message to take root and grow in a human life. You and I should be working diligently to plant seed wherever we go. When there is an opening to share the good news of grace we should do so and then pray that God causes the seed to grow.
Any farmer knows that not all seed is alike. If you want a good crop you must start with a good seed. This is also true as we share the gospel. We must make sure that we understand the gospel and that we can explain it to those who ask us. One of the things I encourage you to do is to develop a concise explanation of what the message of salvation is. Peter said,
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15)
If someone asked you how to get to Heaven, could you tell them? If someone asked you what Christians believe, could you explain the basic tenets of the faith? If you can’t do so, you need to get some training. You could get involved in a Sunday School class, you could take our 101 class, you could read some appropriate books, you could get involved in a Bible Study, you could read through messages on our website. There really is no excuse for not having the seed ready when it is time to scatter that seed.
Third, we can and must care for the growing seed. We must eliminate the weeds of faulty understanding. In other words we must help a new believer or someone who is interested in the faith to think clearly. We must defend against the parasites of false teaching. As we have said before the best antidote to false teaching is solid instruction. We should be available to answer questions (or to find answers to questions), we can correct misunderstandings and we can help guide a person’s study. God brings the growth but He depends on us to plant and care for the crop.
But, having done all these things, the real impact of God’s Word is still in God’s hands. Only God can change a human heart. We must entrust the work to Him. We do not create the Kingdom of God. We do not create the Kingdom by our goodness, by our hard work, by our faithfulness. Our job is to scatter the seed . . .it’s His job to make it grow.
It’s not the size of the Seed But What Happens When the Seed is Planted
In the second parable Jesus talks about the mustard seed. It is a small seed that results in a large bush. Some have said that the resulting “tree” can be ten or twelve feet high. The bush grows quickly. It is an amazing thing to think that this little seed could eventually produce a bush that would allow birds to sit on it’s branches.
There are some people who get all upset that Jesus said that the mustard seed was the smallest of seeds. In fact, it is not the smallest of seeds. Other seeds are smaller. Does this mean the Bible is not to be trusted? Does this mean that the authority of Scripture is called into question? I don’t think so. To speak in hyperbole is not to lie. Jesus was not trying to speak technically or biologically, he was trying to make a point. It is possible that this was the smallest seed these people knew. It may have been the smallest seed that you plant in the area. And it may just have been that Jesus was using hyperbole to draw a contrast between small beginnings and surprising results.
Don’t let these petty arguments keep you from hearing what Jesus was trying to say. A small seed may yield a great result. Isn’t that a great thought? It is not the size of the person, church, or community that matters . . . it is what God can do through a yielded heart. DL Moody once said, “The world has yet to see what God can do through one man who is totally yielded to Him.”
Think about the small seed that Jesus started with. He had twelve common men who became his disciples. Who would have thought that God could get His message to the entire world through fishermen, tax-collectors and other such men? They were ordinary men but when ordinary people put their faith in God, great things happen.
Think about our church. Most people would quickly write us off as a small town church with a small area of influence. But take a look at the church guestbook on our web site and see that people literally from around the world are being ministered to by our rural congregation. Think about the effect that our radio ministry, tape ministry, missions involvement and writing is having in places we do not see. We may be a small seed but God can bring great things from that small seed.
Let me take it even further. God is able to use the smallest seed, the most unlikely individual, to bring about an astounding harvest. Perhaps you feel there is nothing you can do. You may feel that your contribution is unimportant. Friend, don’t look in the mirror. Don’t look at your size, your talents, or your position. Look at the Father. Realize that God can use you to change the world. Maybe He will put you in the public eye. Maybe he will raise you up to testify of Him. Or maybe He will use you quietly.
A little-known monk, John Staupitz, led Martin Luther to Christ. Lord Shaftesbury was taught to pray by the simple Christian woman who was his nurse.Perhaps you never heard of John Egglen—he led C. H. Spurgeon to the Saviour; or Edward Kimball, the Boston shoe merchant who was the means of the conversion of D. L. Moody.Tan, P. L. (1996, c1979). Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : [a treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers]. Garland TX: Bible Communications.
You just don’t know what God may do through you. Let’s take one example
Mr. Kimball, in 1858, led a Boston shoe clerk to give his life to Christ. The clerk, Dwight L. Moody, became an evangelist. In England in 1879, he awakened evangelistic zeal in the heart of Fredrick B. Meyer, pastor of a small church. F. B. Meyer, preaching to an American college campus, brought to Christ a student named J. Wilbur Chapman. Chapman, engaged in YMCA work, employed a former baseball player, Billy Sunday, to do evangelistic work. Billy Sunday held a revival in Charlotte, N.C. A group of local men were so enthusiastic afterward that they planned another evangelistic campaign, bringing Mordecai Hamm to town to preach. During Hamm’s revival, a young man named Billy Graham heard the gospel and yielded his life to Christ. Only eternity will reveal the tremendous impact of that one Sunday School teacher, Mr. Kimball, who invested his life in the lives of others.
You do not know what God is going to do through you! But mark my word . . . if you belong to Him, God is using You to advance His kingdom. You and I may be the smallest of seeds . . . but, in the hands of the Almighty God you just don’t know what He might bring to pass through us.
We must not be discouraged by small beginnings.
It is easy for someone to conclude that a little mustard seed wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything. But they would be wrong. It is easy to think that the little seeds that you plant aren’t going to do anything . . . but you are discounting the Lord.
you may think the small class you teach isn’t worth your time
you may think that your dollar in the offering place can’t do much
you may believe that your visits to your sick friend isn’t accomplishing anything for Jesus
you may think that your faltering speech wouldn’t convince anyone of the truth of grace
you may think that the low attendance at your meeting means you are failing
you may think that your simple song is no big deal
you may think that your limited knowledge of the things of God disqualifies you to share with others
you may think that your faithful witness is falling on deaf ears
But you don’t know what God is going to do through your faithfulness! You don’t know how many people are going to be impacted simply because you were faithful in the little things of life. You don’t know who is watching or listening. You don’t know what God is doing through the seed you plant.
We need to stop thinking of ourselves as “just one person”. Think of all the times God used one person to change the world,
Martin Luther King
and countless others along the way. We are one person in the hand of Almighty God! Don’t sell yourself short! Who knows what God might be doing through you?
We need to stop thinking of ourselves as just a small church in a small community. We belong to the God who made the universe! His resources are inexhaustible. His ability is unmatched. He can use us to change the world! It is time to stop looking at our size and begin looking at His! It is time to realize that the smallest seed can be used by God to make an eternal impact. We need to stop asking what we are able to do and start imagining what He can do in and through us.
In management circles there are all kinds of books that encourage us to “think outside the box”. They encourage leaders to dare to see what is not easily seen and to look beyond what is obvious. They challenge us to see possibilities rather than limitations. They encourage us to look beyond the “way things have always been” and look for new methods and directions.
In a sense, I think this is what Jesus is saying to us. He wants us to look at the Kingdom of God differently. He instead of fretting over how we can build the kingdom, He wants us to watch as He builds the Kingdom! We need to stop putting our confidence in our strength and ability and begin trusting His ability. We need to stop trying to force things and let Him work in the quiet of a heart. We must stop concluding that things are hopeless and instead trust the quiet working of His Spirit. We must stop excusing our responsibility and ignoring our opportunities because we are just a “little seed”. Instead, He wants us to rest in His hand and realize that in His hand, even the smallest seed can bring an eternal return.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there was someone here today who thinks that they are so insignificant, or so small, or so weak, or so bad, that God would never notice, care about, or use you. But God does see you. God loves you. And Christ died for you.
It’s a staggering thought, isn’t it? We are but one piece of dust in an enormous universe but God knows your name and mine. He knows my heart and yours. He cares about our heartaches. And He wants to love us as His own. Jesus was thinking of you and me when He went to the cross. To the rest of the world we may be nobodies . . . but to God we were so valuable that He sent His Son to set us free.
The world may not applaud us. People may not know our names or understand the things that matter to us. But the God of the Universe has made us a part of His family. We are heirs to the King! We are keepers of the promise. We are participants in the Kingdom of God. We are part of God’s army. Though we are weak, He is strong. Though we stumble, He never does. Though we may be confused, God sees clearly. Our task is to remember and rest in these things. And if we do, we will find a new sense of freedom and the journey which we call life will become a journey filled with joy.