Mark 4:26-34 (NIV) 26 [Jesus] 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 of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds 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.
My dear friends in Christ,
Two weeks ago we began our series “Following.” Does anyone remember what it means to “follow” Jesus? It’s a lot like following something or someone that interests us on social media or in a newspaper. Following Jesus means that we believe what he says and trust what he does, and we eagerly listen to him every day. Back in Mark 2 we heard Jesus proclaim, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 NIV). When we follow Jesus we receive rest—rest for our souls, and the promise of eternal rest waiting for us in heaven.
Since then, Jesus had been very busy. He had healed many people. He had appointed 12 men as his disciples. He responded to more attacks from the teachers of the law. When they questioned his sanity and accused him of working with Satan, he began teaching in parables. Does anyone know what a parable is? It is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus used everyday things people would understand in order to explain what God’s kingdom was all about. He usually began his stories with “This is what the kingdom of God is like...” (Mark 4:26 NIV).
Jesus told two parables in a row, both having to do with seeds and gardens. “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” (Mark 4:26–28 NIV). Isn’t that exactly how it works? Last Saturday we finally planted our garden. We had several packets of seed—zucchini, lettuce, basil, cucumbers, beans, and cabbage. We plotted out the ground and planted the seeds in rows. Guess what happened? The plants are growing! Seven days later the zucchini, beans and cucumbers have sprouted, and their leaves are already starting to widen and spread. They will continue to grow until they start producing.
How does it work? If I was a botanist, I could explain exactly what is happening, but it doesn’t capture the miracle taking place in the soil. We planted the seeds, we watered them, and we left them alone. I didn’t have to spend time lying on the ground talking to the seeds and coaxing them to grow. I didn’t have to pet the seeds, or break them open so the sprouts could be set free. No, whether I was asleep in my bed or getting ready for work in the morning, the seeds sprout and grow. That’s what seeds do. That’s what God made them to do!
If that’s what happens when we plant, why would we ever stop planting seeds in our gardens? I can think of a bunch of reasons. I don’t want to plant. I’m too tired and way too lazy. Gardening is hard work. I don’t want to go out and put those seeds in the ground. Why can’t someone else do it? I don’t want to plant because there’s really no glory in gardening. Just think about it—how often do farmers receive all kinds of accolades for planting corn and soybeans. No one is out on the edge of their field giving them a standing ovation! Sometimes I don’t want to plant because it’s the same old crop. Why can’t bean seeds grow and produce pineapples or blueberries? There are also times we don’t plant because we don’t have the seeds that we need. We forgot to get them when we were at the store.
Remember, Jesus told this story to make a point. God makes his kingdom grow, just like seeds growing in a garden, by spreading his Word. He plants his Word and it grows. If that’s how it works, why would we ever stop using God’s Word? I have as many excuses for that as I do planting the garden. I am too tired and way to lazy to use God’s Word. My days are busy with work, chores, and sports. By the time I’m finished with my day, I don’t want to spend time in God’s Word. Maybe I’ll use it tomorrow. I don’t want to use God’s Word because there’s no glory in it for me. In fact, chances are someone will make fun of me, or it tells me something I really don’t want to hear about the choices I make. Why would I want to use God’s Word when I hear the same old thing over and over again. It keeps telling me how bad I am, and everything I say and do is wrong. I don’t want to hear that anymore. I might even tell myself I don’t have the supplies I need. I have a Bible, but I can’t understand all the things that I’m reading. Why should I even bother?
If you could see our garden right now, you wouldn’t be very impressed. Yes, the little plants are coming up, but there are all kinds of other things coming up too. Can you guess what they are? Weeds. If we hadn’t planted the productive seeds, the harvest in fall wouldn’t be very good. It would be terrible! If I’m not planting God’s Word, then what am I planting? Usually it’s the noxious weeds of my own thoughts and ideas. Nothing good comes from that. Jesus warned, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matthew 15:19 NIV). A sinful, corrupt heart isn’t going to produce anything good. Paul told the Galatians, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction” (Galatians 6:7–8 NIV). If we plant our lives in this way, we will only produce worthless weeds, and God will have no choice but to pull us up and throw us on the burn pile.
God’s Word really does work. Listen again to what 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” (Mark 4:26–28 NIV). Jesus had been busy doing that as he began his ministry. Jesus scattered the good news of salvation with everyone he met. He didn’t worry about whether people would believe his message or not. Think about the results of his ministry. He preached and taught for 3½ years, and what did he have to show for it? Eleven men who were his closest companions, a group of women who made sure they had enough to eat, and a group of about 500 believers by the time he went to the cross. It doesn’t look all that impressive, especially for the Son of God!
He trusted that the Word itself was powerful enough to do its work. Isaiah shared the Lord’s promise about that: “My word will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 NIV).
Jesus’ word is so powerful that the tiniest bit can cause faith to grow. “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:31–32 NIV). Think of what happened to Jesus’ disciples thanks to the Word planted in their hearts. Early on, Jesus could only say, “You of little faith” (Matthew 8:26 NIV) about them. As they watched Jesus on the cross, they had plenty of doubts. Their hearts were filled with fear. They thought Jesus was dead and had left them all alone. Their tiny faith held on, and after Jesus rose from the dead, that tiny seed of faith was growing. The Emmaus disciples asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 NIV). Remember how boldly Peter preached to the crowds, stood up to the Sanhedrin, and finally died because he kept scattering the Word wherever he went? The “little mustard seed of faith” grew into a massive faith that trusted Jesus’ Word and was willing to plant it in others so God’s kingdom could keep growing.
God’s Word is powerful. Jesus’ cross and empty tomb make the impossible happen. Just like a dry, dead seed sprouts, grows, and produces a crop, God’s Word brings dry, dead hearts to life. That’s why Jesus’ followers need to grow in God’s Word. God’s kingdom will only grow when his Word is planted in people’s hearts. The tiny seed of faith will flourish only when we nourish it with these same Words of life!
Peter recognized how vital God’s Word is in our lives. He said, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3:18 NIV). How will that happen? What is God’s kingdom like? Seed that grows—we don’t see how or where. We just need the seed so we can grow. We don’t have to go to the store to buy it. It’s right here, and it’s free. We just need to take advantage of it! Every time we hear God’s Word here in church, or read it at home, or use it in a family devotion, the seed is planted and it grows. Sometimes we even get to see it at work. Think of the times our children folded their hands and prayed without anyone encouraging them to do it, or shouting out “Jesus” during the worship service, or singing their tuneless praises at the top of their lungs. That’s God’s Word working! Keep on growing in God’s Word!
Don’t forget about the harvest God’s Word produces. The prophet Hosea said, “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you” (Hosea 10:12 NIV). God’s Word changes our hearts. It breaks up the hard, stony soil and we can produce a harvest of love. That love makes hearing God’s Word and planting the seed in someone else a joy, not a burden. That love helps us find new and amazing treasures every day in God’s Word. We read the same story about our salvation in Jesus again and again, and it never gets old. The seed of God’s Word accomplishes all that and more. We don’t know how. We just know that God makes it grow. That’s exactly what happens to Jesus’ followers. We grow in God’s Word. Every day. All by the grace of God. Amen.