Text: Mark 4:26-34
Main Idea: The Kingdom of God grows all by itself.
We apologize that there is no video available for this sermon.
I. The Kingdom of God Grows all by itself (Mark 4:26-29)
II. The Kingdom of God is Utterly Unstoppable (Mark 4:30-34)
God works in mysterious ways. What I mean by this is not that his ways are wholly unknown to us, but that he works in ways that are utterly surprising to us. He calls idol worshipers to follow him so that he might bless the entire earth through their family line. He chooses linen-clad shepherd boys to slay armored giants with a single stone and raises them to the royal throne. He heals and cleanses decomposing lepers with dirty waters. And most of all he extends the boundaries of his kingdom through the substutionary death of his beloved Son rather than the rightful death of his sworn enemies.
Like the parable of the sower, the two parables today are about seeds growing into plants. While the parable of the sower (4:1–8) was concerned with the seed’s ultimate fruitfulness, the parable of the secretly growing seed highlights the seed’s ability to grow apart from any human intervention, and the parable of the mustard seed emphasizes the seed’s exponential growth.
Jesus wants his first-century and twenty-first-century disciples to understand the truly mysterious and often ignored truth (main idea): The Kingdom of God is utterly unstoppable because it grows all by itself. To put it another way, God is actively fulfilling his redemptive purposes even when we are not able to see any measurable proof that he is doing anything.
The Kingdom of God Grows all by Itself (Mark 4:26–29)
The Kingdom of God is Utterly Unstoppable (Mark 4:30–34)
The Kingdom of God Grows all by Itself (Mark 4:26–29)
The Parable(Mark 4:26)
This parable is very similar to “The Sower, the Seed, and The Soil” in verses 1–8, in that, it has a sower, seed, soil, and a full harvest.
The seed is the gospel message that Jesus has been preaching since the beginning of his ministry, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
The sower is anyone who shares the message of the gospel with someone else. To put it another way seed-sowing is not reserved for professional clergy or highly trained evangelists. Seed sowing can be done by anyone. The sower is simply means by which the seed is scattered on the ground.
The soil, just like the previous parable, refers to all the people who hear the gospel. But, instead of focusing on different responses to the gospel message, Jesus wants his disciples to understand that the sower does not—in fact cannot—make the seed grow… it produces a crop without human intervention or understanding (4:27).
Two Important Observations:
Harvested Fruit Requires Planted Seed.
It would be a colossal mistake for us to read this parable and conclude that our evangelistic efforts and discipleship ministries are a colossal waste of time or wholly-inconsequential. Wheat doesn’t grow where seed has never been planted. Human activity is the very means by which the gospel seed is scattered and sown in the world.
Matthew 28:18–20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Romans 10:14–15 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
No one will come to faith in Jesus apart from hearing or reading the gospel of Jesus.
Harvested Fruit is Always Evidence of God’s Sovereign Work
Notice that the farmer doesn’t go out to his field and dig up his seeds every day to check on their progress, “he sleeps and rises night and day” confident that harvest time is coming because the earth, like the God, causes the seed to prosper all by itself.
The human activity in this parable is threefold: sowing, waiting in faith, and reaping.
James 5:7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.
Now as we apply this to our evangelistic efforts, Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t follow up on gospel-conversations. Faithful Christians, just like faithful farmers, don’t abandon their fields until harvest time comes. They water, fertilize, weed, and protect their seeds from invasive insects and animals to the best of their ability. But, when all is said and done: harvested fruit is always evidence of God’s sovereign work.
1 Corinthians 3:5–9 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
Notice that Paul is using the very same imagery as Jesus and that he is using it to demonstrate that gospel success isn’t the direct result of the minsters who plant and water. Rather, he wants us to see that gospel success—saving faith—is the certain, sovereign, and mysterious work of God himself. As J.C. Ryle noted over one-hundred and thirty years ago:
We cannot explain why the [gospel] produces effects on one person in a congregation and not upon another. We cannot explain why, in come case—people reject the [gospel] and continue dead in their transgressions and sins. We cannot explain why in other cases—with every possible difficulty, and with no real encouragement—people are born again and become Christians. We cannot define the manner in which the Spirit of God conveys life to a soul, and the exact process by which a believer receives a new nature. All these are hidden things to us. We see certain results, but we can go no further. (Cf. Ezek 55:10–11; John 3:5–8)
Rosaria Butterfield was a liberal lesbian English professor at Syracuse University whose academic interests were focused on feminist theory and queer theory.
In her autobiography, “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” she shares her unexpected journey to faith in Jesus Christ as she met weekly with a pastor and his wife to find out why the religious right hated people like her so much. She expected scorn but she received love and hospitality. She expected to be lectured but she received a listening ear. And as they met week after week to read and discuss the Bible something slowly began to happen… so slowly she didn’t even see it happening herself until a friend in her gay community told her that “she needed to stop reading the Bible with that pastor because it was starting to change her.”
The seed of the gospel by the power of God was producing the first blade, a blade that would grow into true saving faith in Jesus Christ. Not because the pastor overwhelmed her with logic and apologetics. But, because the Holy Spirit was opening her eyes to the true gravity of her separation from God and the glorious gift of forgiveness and restoration to God that he freely offers by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. For the first time in her life Jesus was becoming a treasure to pursued and enjoyed not a misogynistic dictator to be avoided at all cost.
This is the way that God works in the gospel. And this is why the kingdom of God is utterly unstoppable.
The Kingdom of God is Utterly Unstoppable (Mark 4:30–34)
Exponential Maturation (Mark 4:30–31)
Everyone expected the Kingdom of God to arrive in one big package, in which the Messiah would utterly destroy Israel’s enemies and reestablish Israel’s national dominance. No one thought it would start so small. And in this parable Jesus is telling his disciples that big things have small beginnings.
- Human beings are the product of a microscopic union between one sperm and one egg.
- Insignificant stresses like wind, rain, or sun on an unstable snowpack can unleash cataclysmic avalanches that rip fully-grown trees out of the ground like a gardener pulls weeds from a well plowed garden.
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, in that the mustard seed is no larger than a grain of sand when planted. But at maturity, it grows into is a tree-like shrub over 10 feet tall in which birds can rest and nest.
His point is simply this, even though the kingdom of God was beginning in obscurity, it would grow exponentially over time into full-blown maturity.
An Unstoppable Invasion(Mark 4:32)
So why did Jesus compare the Kingdom of God to a seed that matures into a garden bush and not mighty oak or a massive cedar? Because oaks trees and cedar trees grow from seeds too… Well, it might be because mustard bushes are as invasive in Palestine as scotch broom is in Washington state.
The Roman historian Pliny the Elder put it this way in his journals, the mustard plant “grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted; but on the other hand [once it has] been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once” (19.170–71).
In other words, the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed not only because it is a tiny seed that grows exponentially into a very large bush. But, because it is virtually impossible to eradicate once it has taken root. And we see this in the history of the church.
In the very beginning, Christianity seemed to be little more than a temporary aberration in historic Judaism. Jesus was a Jew. His disciples were Jews. But, Jesus was so much more than a progressive Jewish Rabbi trying to reform Judaism. He came to inaugurate God’s promised kingdom.
Jesus came to fulfill the law that no human could possibly fulfill and die an unjust death at the hands of sinful men so that he might bear God’s wrath against their sins. All of this so that sinful humans might be forgiven and fully restored to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t come to solve Israel’s political and social problems, he came to solve humanities sin problem.
From the outside Jesus’ life, ministry, and death seemed wholly-insignificant—just like a mustard seed. But, once he completed his mission and poured out the Holy Spirit on his Church at Pentecost, Christianity flourished spreading from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, to the very ends of the earth. And one day he will return… but it won’t be like his first.
2 Thessalonians 1:4–9 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 5This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
The Kingdom of God is Utterly Unstoppable. It’s growing even now as God saves guilty sinners through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, the warning in this text is that the kingdom of God just like a farmers field grows until it is time for harvest. The opportunity to respond to the gospel just like the opportunity for grain to grow will be over.
There is coming a day when everything will change. And when that time comes, God will pour out his vengeance on those who do not obey (believe) the gospel (vs 8) and he will glorify those who believed the gospel of Jesus Christ (vs 10).
The question is, “have you come to faith in Christ or not?” Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day of forgiveness and restoration. I pray if you have not come to faith in Jesus Christ, that today would be the day.
Don’t waste your life pursuing things that won’t last
If you are a Christian, your life is not about you, it’s not about your politics, it’s not about your career, not is it about getting your piece of the “American Dream—you were bought with a price and you belong to the kingdom of God. And it’s growing, even though you do not always see its growth and impact.
Here is my question, “Are you pouring your passion, time, and resources into kingdom priorities or things that will not last?” Not sure? Try this little exercise this week, what do you day dream about? What are you truly excited about? How do you steward you financial resources? Is church a place where you come learn or is it a palace to worship our King, fellowship with fellow Kingdom citizens, and pour ourselves into his Kingdom work.
2 Corinthians 5:20–21 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Ultimately, Christianity is the pursuit of ever-increasing joy and delight in Jesus Christ himself, not his gifts or the unending benefits that flow from our new life in him.
Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Don’t fall into the false hope of “perfect parenting.”
Many mothers and fathers embrace the unspoken, but deeply held trope, that faithful parenting always produces spiritually healthy children. Or as Dave Harvey puts it, ““If I obey the Bible, discipline consistently, and push the catechism, then my kids will look good on earth and be present in heaven.” After all doesn’t the Bible say:
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
But, the problem with that proverbs are statements of general truth NOT concrete promises anchored in the infinite faithfulness of our never failing God.
The Bible never promises you or me that our children will come to saving faith in Jesus because we follow the right parenting, Christian schooling, home schooling, or discipling script. And I know we wish it were true. But, think about the other side. If the proper process always produces gospel results; then wayward children are ALWAYS the result of parental failure…
There are fathers and mothers here this morning that feel like utter failures because their children are not living for Jesus or have utterly rejected the faith they once professed. This text is a reminder that you cannot causeyour child to come to faith in Jesus but that you are responsible to share the gospel with them over and over again, teach them sound doctrine, and help them pursue holiness avoiding sin.
Your job is to sow, water, and weed in faith trusting, praying, and waiting on God to do his work of grace.
Mark L. Strauss, Mark, vol. 2 of Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 197.
“That the farmer has no idea how it grows implies that he is not the cause of the growth and is ignorant of the process. ;” (David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 176).
James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 143.
J. C. Ryle, Mark, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Crossway Books, 1993), 55.
Some challenge that the mustard seed is not the smallest in the world. “Jesus, however, is not giving a lesson in botany but is speaking proverbially in language his audience would understand. From the perspective of a first-century Palestinian audience, the mustard seed is the smallest seed in the world;” (Strauss, Mark, 199).
Strauss, Mark, 200.