Parables of the Seeds and the Kingdom
By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
26Jesus went on to say, “The Kingdom of God is like this. A man scatters seed in his field. v27He sleeps at night, is up and about during the day, and all the while the seeds are sprouting and growing. Yet he does not know how it happens. v28The soil itself makes the plants grow and bear fruit; first the tender stalk appears, then the head, and finally the head full of grain. v29When the grain is ripe, the man starts cutting it with his sickle, because harvest time has come. (Read: Mark 4:26-34)
The fourth chapter of the gospel of Mark contains three parables about the kingdom of God (vv.4-20, 26-34). In these parables Jesus uses the seeds in various conditions in order to drive home the meaning of the Kingdom of God. The first such parable is called the Parable of the Sower (4:4-20). There are four different kinds of soil, Jesus said: hard soil (a path); rocky ground; thorny ground; and good soil. People, Jesus said, are like those four kinds of soil. The Word of God is the seed which falls into four different kinds of soil.
The second parable in this chapter is the parable of the harvest (4:26-29). The seed grows as the farmer goes about his work day by day. The day comes when the grain is ripe. Then comes the harvest. We must live with a knowledge that for each of us there will be a harvest day, a time of death, and a time of astounding change. Who would guess the wonders of heaven having seen the original seed of life?
The third is the parable of the mustard seed (4:30-32). The Kingdom of God, like the mustard seed, starts small, but grows into a large shrub with many branches.
In order to have a fuller understanding of these parables let us recall the meaning and intentions of the parables in the Bible. The parables of Jesus make up a crucial part of the Bible. Jesus had the wisdom to simplify the profound spiritual truths he needed to share with humanity in the form of relatable stories that are easy to understand. A parable is a tale about a simple, common subject to illustrate a deeper, valuable moral lesson. The source definition of the word “parable” means a placement side by side for the purpose of comparison.
Sometimes the Gospel authors begin a parable with an analogy, as “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1). Or Jesus may provide an example from everyday life to convey spiritual truth, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan to emphasize love and mercy, or the Parable of the Friend at Midnight to show persistence in prayer.
A parable utilizes the full story to produce the spiritual lesson, whereas a proverb, metaphor, simile, or figure of speech centers usually on a word, phrase or sentence.
Madeleine I. Boucher wrote: “The importance of the parables can hardly be overestimated. They comprise a substantial part of the recorded preaching of Jesus. The parables are generally regarded by scholars as among the sayings which we can confidently ascribe to the historical Jesus; they are, for the most part, authentic words of Jesus. Moreover, all of the great themes of Jesus’ preaching are struck in the parables. Perhaps no part of the Gospels, then, can better put us into touch with the mind of Jesus Christ than the parables. They still today present us with the challenge with which Jesus encountered his hearers in first-century Palestine. These little stories (together with the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes) are the best known of all Jesus’ words. It is a measure of the value which the Church places upon them that every parable without exception occurs in the Sunday lectionary readings.”
The gospel lesson this Sunday focuses on the two parables of the Kingdom in this 4th chapter of Mark’s gospel:
The Parable of the Growing Seeds (vv.26-29)
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? The growth of God’s kingdom 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.
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.
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.
This parable teaches us that it is God alone who is responsible for the growth of Christ’s kingdom.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed (vv.30-32).
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.
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. Someday 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.
A small fellow, not much over 5 feet tall, applied for a job as a lumberjack in Alaska. The foreman, thinking to discourage him, gave him a large ax, set him before a tree hundreds of feet tall, and yards in diameter, and told him to chop it down. Within minutes the tree had been felled. The amazed foreman asked him where he’d learned to chop trees so powerfully. The little fellow replied, “When I worked in the Sahara forest.” “You mean, the Sahara desert.” “That was after I got there,” said the small lumberjack.
The point of the story is that size is less important than spirit, or intelligence, or courage — a point made when King David was selected at a young age: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature … for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
A faith that grows has heart, a heart that belongs to God. Faith grows from the inside out. (Merritt W. Ednie, God’s Program In Process)
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.
(Sources/References: eSermons.com, NIV Compact Bible Commentary, www.reyfowler.org)**