The crop grows – and we don’t know how
- Ezekiel 47:1-12
- Mark 4:26-34
- “Come, O Fount of every blessing”
- “In Christ alone”
- “Tell me the old old story”
- “We’ve a story to tell to the nations”
Dr. James Allen Frances, describes the life of Jesus this way:
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in still another village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty years old. Then for three years He was a poor itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held public office. He never had a family nor owned a house. He never went to college. He never traveled more than 300 km from the place where He was born.
Jesus did none of the things one usually associates with greatness. He had no credentials but Himself [and what the angels declared about Him]. He was only thirty-three when public opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him.
He was turned over to His enemies and went through a mock trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. When He was dying, His executioners gambled for His clothing, probably the only property He had on earth.
When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed tomb because of the pity of a friend.
Two thousand years have passed, and today He is still the central figure of the human race. He still will not be relegated to a particular niche of our experience, nor will He compromise His principles for the sake of political correctness. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on earth as much as that one solitary Life.
We add to this: His Kingdom will grow and before Him every knee will bow. This is what the Bible message is about this morning.
The mystery of the growth the Kingdom of heaven
Last week, my dear brother and sister, God spoke to us about the good and noble soil which produced hundredfold, sixtyfold and thirtyfold.
This follows the section in the parable telling us that quite a large number of people who hear the Gospel will listen, understand and bear fruit.
We established that the parables of Jesus are about the Kingdom of God, and how the Father planned from all eternity to take people from the kingdom of darkness and plant them into the Kingdom of light. The Gospel is about the Kingdom of God, calling people into the Kingdom of God, causing the Kingdom to grow exponentially into something not fathomable.
If I ask you today, “What can man do in order to be saved?”, I might create tension and remain silent a few moments, and then blast out, “He can do exactly nothing! God does it all!” And I would be right; that is what the Bible teaches. But I should also tell you this: When the jailer asked, “Men, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas did not say, “You can do nothing at all.” No, they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved, you and your household.”
Up to now the parable about the sower and the soils stresses human responsibility: the seed cannot sprout, grow, and bear fruit unless it falls into good soil. This means the Word of God bears fruit only when the heart responds by believing, by understanding, and by hanging on to the truth of it to produce a crop, even if it means to defend one’s faith in the presence of adversity. This is an aspect of the truth that must never be neglected. Indeed, he who has ears, let him listen, lest your heart hardens! This is what Jesus was trying to teach the people: the Kingdom belongs to God; the seed is the Word of God, the sower is the Son of Man – all of this happens on God’s initiative, seeking to save the lost. But there is such a thing as personal responsibility.
Paul write to the Christians in Philippi:
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12–13, NIV)
In other words, give effect to your salvation – which is from God who works in you.
Coming back to the parable of our reading today we have to understand that the Kingdom of Heaven will grow because the King is sovereign. But this Kingdom is not described as something grand and glorious: no shimmering mountain peaks, no crimson sunsets, no opulence of emperors, nothing about gladiators and arenas. Jesus likens it to seeds sown into dirt.
It teaches that just as God alone is the Author of physical growth, so also God alone, not man, is the Author of spiritual growth, who establishes the reign of God in hearts and lives. It is because of his will that the spiritual seed increases powerfully in the hearts of men and therefore also upon society generally. What a comfort this is, for now with patience we await the harvest that is certain to arrive.
“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.” (James 5:7, NIV)
According to our parable the farmer who sows the seed to harvest a crop at the end of the season, contributes nothing towards it beyond the initial sowing of the seed and the eventual harvesting; in between he has nothing to do but wait. Our text says:
“Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” (Mark 4:27, NIV)
The texts says the seed grows by itself, automatically (it is in its designed nature to grow), without the intervention of the sower. At first there may be little to show for the sowing of seed, and a skeptical observer might think nothing was happening. The Bible says “first the stalk, then the ear, then the full kernel in the ear”, all of this describes the process which is programmed into seed; the farmer can only look on in amazement.
There is an inner dynamic in that message of the Gospel which will in due time produce its effect, even if human insight cannot fathom how the process works. The kingdom of God does not depend on human effort to achieve it, and human insight will not be able to explain it.
God’s timing is wonderful and perfect. Yes, of course there will be seed sown which will not mature into a crop; we know it – however sad it might be. But the Kingdom of Christ grows every time a sinner, even after hearing the same message for years and years, one day hear it for the first time – and believe.
Many missionaries have been sowing the seed over hundreds of years without seeing a result, but only now people come to Christ. How we don’t know. It is not our business, it’s God’s. To Him be the glory. Let us never stop to pray for the seed sown, let us never stop praying for the coming of the Kingdom, let’s never stop marvelling in the power of the Gospel.
The potency of the Kingdom
Faithful ministers scatter the seed year upon year. They explain, picture, invite, exhort, comfort, warn, urge, make pastoral calls. Nevertheless, to a considerable extent their efforts seem to have been futile. Then all of a sudden the winds of God begin to blow into the hearts of the parishioners.
The Spirit is working mightily to give life to the words of the Word He inspired about the WORD, Jesus Christ. They then, with the Saviour being Lord over them, become sowers of the Word because Jesus must be Lord of all and over all.
This is where the hundredfold and sixtyfold and thirtyfold comes in. They begin to bear fruit, and those who hear and believe bear fruit too.
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.” (Proverbs 11:30, NIV)
“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3, NIV)
Those fruitful in the Kingdom of God see to it that the will of God as revealed in his Word is recognized and obeyed in every sphere: the family, the church, government (on every level), education, art, science, literature, commerce, industry, etc., etc. In this way the kingdom or reign of God becomes established upon the earth.
We do not know the precise moment when the blade develops into the ear, or when the ear produces a row of full kernels. It cannot be done. Nevertheless, though invisible at the time, development is also inevitable. Under normal conditions nothing can stop growth. Who has not seen places where a plant pushed its head through a sidewalk or a wall or at times even through a pipe? This is the potency of the Gospel of Christ.
You might know this story, but is worthwhile telling again: This story begins with the Mutiny on the Bounty in April 1789. Fletcher Christian after the Captain and his party were sent adrift on a raft, took the Bounty and the rest of the crew to Tahiti. In September of the same year, he and eight other men from the Bounty, six Tahitian men, eleven Tahitian women and one child, sailed away from the others. At the beginning of the following year, they landed on an uninhabited island, Pitcairn’s, and burned the ship in order to escape detection.
At first, the island seemed a paradise. But then the Englishmen mistreated the Tahitians and stole one of their wives, causing a rebellion. Within four years, all of the Tahitian men and all but four of the Englishmen had been murdered. The only survivors were Alexander Smith, Edward Young, Matthew Quintall, William McCoy, ten women and some children.
McCoy learned how to distill liquor from the roots of the ti plant, and eventually the men were drunk almost all the time, living in a continual orgy with some of the women. Fearing for their lives, the women and children fled to another part of the island and build a fort for protection.
McCoy threw himself over the cliffs while drunk. Matthew Quintal became drunk and insane, threatening the lives of everyone else. Smith and Young had to axe him to death for the safety of the others on the island.
Smith finally destroyed the still and all the liquor on the island, and went through several months of withdrawal from alcohol. Young was taken in by the women because he was dying of consumption. While he was living alone for months, Smith discovered the Bible and a Book of Common Prayer from the remains of the Bounty, but he was illiterate.
Eventually, Young and the women returned to the village where Smith was, where he taught Smith to read using the Bible, and died in 1801. Alexander Smith continued to read to Bible in its entirety, and grew to understand it over a period of several years. Seeing the importance of teaching it to others, he began teaching the children how to read, and eventually some of the mothers learned as well. Using the Bible, he taught everyone about the Christian faith and instituted a daily prayer time, grace before meals, and Sunday worship.
In 1808, Pitcairn’s Island was discovered by captain Mayhew Folger of an American ship. The members of the crew were shocked to find that the island was inhabited by thirty-five English-speaking people of Polynesian blood who were practicing the Christian faith. A Church and a school were later built on the island. Alexander Smith felt a personal responsibility for the Christian nurture and care of the many children on the island.
A visitor to the island later said: I then walked round and questioned several of the people on the texts, and some of the chief Scripture facts and doctrines, and most of them gave ready and suitable answers. The islanders have prayers twice on the Sunday; after which Mr. Nobbs reads sermons from Burder, Watts, Blair, or Whitfield. There is also a Sabbath-school, a Bible-class is held on the Wednesday, and a day-school every morning and afternoon.
There is a potency in the seed: it can change the hardest of heart, it can mend the broken of heart, it can fulfill the longings of the most lonely heart, and it gives hope to the most contrite of heart. It can do this to communities, to cultures, to nations, and ultimately the world.
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14, NIV)
The victory of the Kingdom
The Kingdom is like a mustard seed: compared to the other seeds of the garden the smallest, but when it grows nothing is compared to it. It reaches ten feet, sometimes even fifteen. In the fall of the year, when the branches have become rigid, birds of many species find here a shelter from the storm, rest from weariness, and shade from the heat of the sun.
It’s growth is beyond expectation. So is the Kingdom of heaven. Paul writes to the Corinthians:
“Brothers and sisters, 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.” (1 Corinthians 1:26, NIV)
John writes to church in Philadelphia:
“I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:8, NIV)
After the return of the captive Israelites from Babylon and the small group of people had to rebuild the temple and the wall of the city, Zechariah warned:
“Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?” (Zechariah 4:10, NIV)
The parable goes on to tell that the mustard seed grew into a tree where the birds of the air can perch in it shade. This has Messianic meaning to the times prophesies by the Psalmist.
“The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.” (Psalm 104:12, NIV)
Daniel saw a vision of the tree, symbolising the Kingdom of God:
“The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds—” (Daniel 4:20–21, NIV)
Why is there victory in the Kingdom of heaven? We have as Commander-in-Chief the Lord of Lords.
“I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” (Revelation 6:1–2, NIV)
“They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” (Revelation 17:14, NIV)
My dear friends in Christ, be careful how you listen, hear the Word, understand it, hang on to it, preach it, sow the seed. In God’s timing He will give the growth. That growth is to us a mystery; but we know it has potency, which will lead to victory.