The Kingdom That Grows

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Mark 4:26-34 (Parables of the Growing and Mustard Seed)

INTRODUCTION: We have been looking at a number of Jesus’ parables in Mark 4, and today we come to the last two in this chapter, the parable of the growing seed and the parable of the mustard seed. These two parables have a lot in common with each other. They are both parables of the kingdom, that is, they both tell us something about what the kingdom of God is like. They both have to do with seeds, and they both have to do with growth. And so it is appropriate that we study them together this morning. (Read and pray.)

You are a missionary in a foreign land. You have left home and family to share the gospel with people who have never heard about Jesus. You have sacrificed so much. Every morning and every evening you pray that God will use you to bring people to Christ and to grow his kingdom. And yet the years go by, and you do not see the growth. What is happening?

You are a small church in a community of people, most of whom do not know Christ. Every Sunday you come together to worship God and proclaim his praises. You faithfully teach God’s word and share Christ with friends and neighbors as you have opportunity. You plan events to reach out to the community. Some people visit and stay. Many others come and go. You are praying and working like crazy to see your church grow, but no matter what you do, you seem to stay about the same size. What is happening?

You have a friend or neighbor who does not know Christ. You have made it a priority to spend time with them, to get to know them, to really become friends. From time to time you share with them about your faith as you have opportunity. They are polite to you whenever you bring it up, but they do not seem to have any interest in Christ themselves. You pray for them and have invited them to church multiple times, but they still haven’t come. What is happening?

What is happening is exactly what Jesus describes for us in these two parables, the parable of the growing seed and the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus told us these parables in order to encourage us to keep on sharing Christ even when we do not see results. The kingdom of God does not always grow the way we think it should grow. And so we need to grasp hold of these parables so that we may understand how God’s kingdom grows and what is our part in it all.

We have already said that these two parables have a lot in common with each other. But even though they may look similar on the surface, each parable has its own important truth to teach us about God’s kingdom and how God’s kingdom grows.

I. The Parable of the Growing Seed (verses 26-29)

So let’s look at the parable of the growing seed first. This parable is not found in any of the other gospels; it is unique to the gospel of Mark. And as we said earlier, it is a parable about the kingdom. Remember, Jesus’ main message was all about the kingdom of God. Jesus proclaimed that God’s kingdom had drawn near in his own person (Mark 1:15), but then he also taught about the kingdom with parables. In fact, many if not most of Jesus’ parables have to do with the kingdom of God. And so Jesus 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. (Mark 4:26-29)

    A. We must plant the seeds.

The first thing we need to learn from this parable is that if we want to see God’s kingdom grow, we must plant the seeds. This is the most basic step when it comes to gardening. If you leave out this step, no matter what else you do, you will never harvest a crop. Can you imagine a farmer preparing the ground and plowing the land and getting everything ready for planting, and then never actually planting the seeds? Now he’s out there every day, faithfully weeding and watering and caring for the empty soil. He still doesn’t see any results, so he doubles his efforts. He works twice as hard at weeding and working the ground, but if he hasn’t planted seeds, he is not going to get any results.

How does God’s kingdom grow? It begins with planting seeds. We have already seen from the parable of the sower that planting seeds means sharing God’s word with other people. And so if we are to see God’s kingdom grow, we must share God’s word with others, especially the good news of Jesus Christ as found in the gospel. No seeds, no plants, no growth. It is that simple.

And so the first thing you need to evaluate when you do not see growth happening, whether you are on the mission field, or with the church, or in your witnessing efforts with friends is this: “Are you planting the seeds? Are you sharing God’s word with other people? Are you sharing the gospel?” Because if you are not, you should not expect to see growth, any more than a farmer should expect a crop when he has not planted any seeds. If we want to see God’s kingdom grow, we must plant the seeds.

    B. God will make his kingdom grow.

But then Jesus’ parable goes on to make an equally important point. Yes, we must plant the seeds. But God is the one who makes them grow. In the parable, the man scatters the seed on the ground, but then, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” (Mark 2:27) Once the man has planted the seed, there are certain things that are out of his hands. Sure, he can water the seed and weed around it to help it along, but that’s not the point Jesus is making here. The point is that once the seed has been planted, the germination of the seed takes place apart from the man and his efforts.

When I was a kid, my Dad gave me a section of his garden to plant cucumbers. I still remember planting the seeds and then going out every day to see if the plants were coming up yet. And I still remember the excitement when the plants finally poked their heads out of the ground. Now I had been watching every day. But my watching didn’t make them grow. Those seeds would have spouted and grown whether I was checking on them or not.

You see, the germination of the seed is a mystery. It takes place underground where you can’t see what’s going on. The farmer doesn’t know exactly how it all happens. He just knows that when he plants the seed, over time the seed germinates, sprouts and grows. It’s what seeds do. It happens apart from him. He could stand out there in the garden every day, saying, “Here seed. Come on seed. Let’s grow now. I know you can do it!” But it won’t make any difference. The seed grows by itself, apart from human effort. Verse 28: “All by itself the soil produces grain — first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.” (Mark 4:28)

It is the same way with the gospel. God’s word is living and active. (Hebrews 4:12) It is powerful. (Jeremiah 23:29) Romans 1:16 says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Just like the seed in the good soil already has the life force in it ready to grow, so the gospel has the power to bring salvation to everyone who believes. Our job is to plant the seeds. But God is the one who makes it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:5-7)

Sometimes, even when you’ve planted the seeds, it may look for a time like nothing is happening. But that’s only because you can’t see what is going on beneath the soil. You need to give it time. You need to trust God to do his work. As long as you are planting seeds, then you can be confident that some of those seeds are going to grow. One day, perhaps when you least expect it, the plants will start poking their heads up through the ground, growing and maturing until the grain is finally ripe and ready for harvest. We must plant the seeds. God will make his kingdom grow.

II. The Parable of the Mustard Seed (verses 30-32)

So that is the parable of the growing seed. Let’s move on now to the parable of the mustard seed. Starting at verse 30:

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.” (Mark 4:30-32)

    A. God’s kingdom starts small.

Jesus makes two points in this parable and the first is that God’s kingdom starts small. Now that should seem strange to us, because God is so big. And I am sure it seemed strange to the disciples, too. Here was Jesus, who looked just like an ordinary man, proclaiming that the kingdom of God had come. Wow, that must be something really big, right? But they look around, and what do they see? It’s just them and Jesus traveling around and teaching the people. Jesus and a bunch of unschooled fishermen. They must have felt pretty insignificant compared to the power of Rome with all its legions of soldiers.

But that’s okay, because God’s kingdom starts small. God is not interested in flash or show. God is interested in changing people’s hearts and lives one person at a time. God doesn’t seek out the brightest and the best, but he seeks out sinners who know they need a Savior. Paul wrote to the church of the Corinthians:

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. 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. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

At another time Jesus turned to his rag-tag bunch of disciples and said to them, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

God’s kingdom starts small. It has humble beginnings. I am sure most people didn’t give the disciples a second glance. I imagine there are probably people all over this town who don’t give our church a second glance. That’s okay. God’s kingdom starts small.

    B. God’s kingdom will grow surprising large.

But there’s a second part to the parable. God’s kingdom may start small, but it will grow surprisingly large. The mustard seed is a very tiny seed that grows into a very large plant. And that’s why Jesus used it for this parable. God’s kingdom starts small, but it is going to finish strong.

We can certainly see this with the worldwide spread of the gospel. Christianity began with these twelve ordinary disciples following Jesus around a small piece of land in the Middle East and has now grown to penetrate every country in every continent on the earth. There are still unreached people groups within many of those countries, but the gospel continues to go forth and God’s kingdom continues to grow. If only the disciples could see the church today, how far the gospel has gone since those small beginnings 2,000 years ago! I believe they can see it, they are overwhelmed by it, and they are giving praise to God even as his kingdom continues to expand.

It is so easy for us just to look at our own small part in God’s plan and feel discouraged that we are not that big or we are not reaching that many people. But we need to realize that we are part of a huge movement of God that is reaching the nations with the gospel. Did you know that most churches number under a hundred people? For that matter, most of the churches in the New Testament were under a hundred!

And once again, that’s okay. God’s kingdom starts small, but just like the mustard seed that grows into a large plant with branches that provide support and shelter for the birds, God’s kingdom is growing. Some day it will fill the whole earth. And if you are in Christ, then you are a part of that. And that should be a great encouragement to you, even when you feel like you are such a small part of all that God is doing in the world.

CONCLUSION: Mark closes out this section on the parables with the following words:

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. (Mark 4:33-34)

Jesus loved teaching through parables, and at least on this occasion he did not say anything to the crowd without using a parable. He used these simple stories from everyday life to teach these important truths about the kingdom. Not everyone understood them at the time, including his own disciples. He had to explain the parables to them later.

But no matter. The parables stuck in your head and made you think and reflect on what Jesus was teaching about the kingdom. The parable of the growing seed teaches us that God is the one who makes his kingdom grow. The parable of the mustard seed teaches us that Gods kingdom starts small but will grow amazingly large compared to its beginnings.

Together the two parables teach us not to be discouraged, but to continue working and praying together for God’s kingdom. We need to be faithful in planting seeds and then trust that God will make them grow in his time. When the kingdom looks small to us, we need to remember that God is growing something big.

One day Christ will be revealed, and his kingdom will come in all of its glory. All that is wrong will be made right, and all wickedness and evil will be judged. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

And on that day we will marvel at how God’s kingdom has grown. From Christ’s humble beginnings in Bethlehem, to his death on the cross, to his exaltation in heaven, to his glorious return – like a seed growing to harvest, God’s kingdom will fill the whole earth. And together we will praise our great God and King forever and ever. Amen.

© Ray Fowler

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