Description / Transcription
O great and glorious God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, giver of the Holy Spirit who spoke by the apostles and prophets, pour out now that same Spirit upon us as we come to the pages of Your Word. Open to us Your most precious truths. Shine Your light upon us. Grant to us understanding, simple as we are. Give us wisdom to enjoy and obey the fruit of this Word, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Imagine you’re one of the 12 disciples and you’ve been expecting a kingdom. After all, your people have had kings before, great military kings like David, great prosperous kings like Solomon, and you think to yourself those were the days, those were some glorious kings, and oh, what a grand kingdom they had.
And then Jesus comes along and He announces the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand, the kingdom. Jesus is going to bring the kingdom. He’s going to be the king. He’s going to reign right here in Jerusalem. He is going to kick some Roman tail.
And then as Jesus talks about the kingdom, I mean, it is going to be a good kingdom. It’s like a precious pearl. It’s like a great treasure. And it’s going to be big. It’s going to be really big. It’s like the biggest plant in the garden, something that spreads across the whole world. And you get excited to think about this kingdom, you look around you and realize, um, including yourself, there’s 12 of you. And you’re not rich. An in fact you have to rely on the donations of others to help keep your trips going. And no one in your group is particularly powerful or influential. You aren’t politically important. You’re probably not even Roman citizens. You are not owners of great stretches of land or titles.
You look behind you, you don’t have an army. You don’t have weapons. And the man you’re following is barely 30 years old and He comes from even a bigger group of nobodies than you do, from a know-nothing town.
So how exactly is this great kingdom going to come? And if you were one of the 12 disciples and you could see what would transpire over the next few years of your lives, you would be even more confused. Okay, so let me get this straight. We got 12 of us, barely any more than our two hands, and one of them is a betrayer, and one guy tried to carry a sword and Jesus said uh uh, we don’t do swords here, and the man we’re following is going to die, and once He’s gone, our great strategy to change the world, to have this amazing kingdom come and grow and cover the whole earth, are you ready for it? You ready for the great kingdom strategy? You’re going to talk and you’re going to tell people stories, and you’ll explain things to them and you’ll make some announcements to them. There it is. You would be forgiven for thinking really? So that’s how the kingdom is going to come?
We’ve been thinking our way through Matthew 13 and before we finish this series next week, there’s one other parable of the kingdom here, and the parallel account in Mark chapter 4. So we’re going to read from Mark chapter 4, verses 26 through 29.
“And He said,” that is, Jesus, “the kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows. He knows not how. The earth produces by itself first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear, but when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle because the harvest has come.”
It is surprising how the kingdom grows. And as you’ve heard before in this series, the kingdom growing is, is what it looks like to us and it’s the sort of analogy that Jesus uses, but in a strictly theological sense, the kingdom comes, or the kingdom breaks in. It’s like the sun. The sun isn’t growing, as you know, maybe a solar flares or something, but the sun’s not growing, but it can break in, it can warm you, it can seem to be more or less present, and so it is with the kingdom. We speak of the kingdom growing, it’s the kingdom coming, it’s the kingdom breaking in.
And you might think when Jesus tells these great parables about this great kingdom that you would think to yourself, as a disciple, we have to get busy planting, planning, creating, establishing, building, the kingdom needs our help. We got a lot of work to do.
And we might think the same thing in our day. In the midst of all of our world changing, culture transforming, kingdom building plans, Jesus says to us, you’d be surprised how the kingdom grows.
Now look at this story. It’s an ordinary story. It contains many of the familiar metaphors and themes of seed and farmers and harvest, and the sort of imagery that would have been very familiar to an agrarian people and it’s the sort of pictures that Jesus uses in many of His parables.
So when you have an ordinary-looking story like this, you want to pay attention to what is emphasized, and you want to see what, what unusual features are given prominence in this story? What seems surprising to you in this little simile?
First, the farmer does not cut a very impressive figure. That stands out to me. Look at the farmer, verse 27, doesn’t seem to do much of anything. He sleeps and he rises, night and day. That, that’s what he does. It’s like, is he a teenage farmer or what? He just, he’s sleeping, he’s rising, that, that’s it. Now, it could be, some commentators say, that’s just to indicate the passage of time. You know, if it were a movie, you’d see the clock hands spinning, and certainly that’s part of it. But what’s emphasized here is not what the farmer does but all of the things conspicuous in their absence about what he’s not doing. We only know two things that the farmer does. Verse 26, he scattered seed on the ground, and verse 27, he sleeps. My kind of farmer.
I’ve known a lot of farmers in my life. My wife’s side of the family have farmers, both sides of my parents’ family had farmers, especially my dad’s side were lifelong dairy farmers and we’d go there during the summer, and, you know, I’ve, and then the first church that I was a pastor at in Orange City, Iowa, lots and lots of farmers. I’ve known lots of kinds of farmers. Sometimes they can be sort of stubborn.
I remember visiting, Merl, I think, was His name, visiting him in the hospital, 85 years old. There in the waiting room and asked his wife, well, what happened? Well, Merl was standing on top of his tractor again. I’m going to do something. He wasn’t crazy. He was just, that, that’s what you do. He’s been a farmer his whole life and he had to fix something and he fell. He didn’t just, he didn’t fall out of the shower, he fell off of his tractor.
Farmers, all the farmers I’ve ever known, have been extremely hardworking. You don’t last very long as a farmer if you’re not willing to work really, really hard. So this stands out to me. This farmer scatters seed and he is a very diligent sleeper. Obviously there’s more to it than that, but I think Jesus is making a point. The farmer sows the seed, he goes to bed, he gets up, he goes to bed, he gets up, he goes to bed, he gets up. He follows this pattern for a while. Voila! A harvest.
And we’ll come back to that because Jesus is wanting to drive home a very powerful point for us. So that’s the first thing that surprises me, is this farmer is a sower and then he’s a very aggressive sleeper.
Second, the farmer is clueless. Verse 27, he knows not how. I wonder if the disciples even were getting a little chuckle out of this story. If Jesus were talking about a real live person at this point, you know the, He’s talking about, you know, Farmer Merl, and He says the kingdom of God is if Merl should scatter seed on the ground and he sort of stands up straight, that’s right, I’m a good farmer scattering seed on the ground, and then he goes to sleep, okay, and he gets up, okay, he goes to sleep, um okay, get up, um, there’s a little bit more to that, Jesus.
Then the end of verse 27, he’s got a harvest, he doesn’t have a clue how. Okay, Jesus, this is, I’m taking this personally now.
Jesus is underlining for us this farmer is not the one bringing the harvest. How does it grow? All he’s done, seed and sleeping. Harvest. The farmer says, well, where did that come from?
My oldest son came in earlier this week from outside. We have, you know, a big backyard and some woods and running around, and he came in with a zucchini about this, this big. A giant zucchini. Said, you see this zucchini I got from my garden? Okay, first of all, my 17-year-old son does not garden. Second of all, he would not garden zucchini. So he, but it’s a zucchini. It’s a big, huge zucchini. He takes his siblings on a wild goose chase to show him supposedly where he’s been gardening all of this zucchini and I thought Trisha had bought something and he got it from the pantry or something, but sure enough, goes out and brings more zucchini. Where is this mysterious zucchini coming from?
Well, it turns out that in the empty lot next to us, which now a big development is going behind, but in the empty lot that used to be years ago, or the previous owners of our house, used to have an elaborate garden there. And so it’s mostly just grass and now they’re tearing down the trees, but there’s one little patch of some garden that’s just grown about, year after year after year, and so sure enough, went there and there’s several large zucchini. Not from the DeYoungs, not from my teenage son, truly when he brought in the harvest, we knew not how. It was a real life, not often does God give illustrations just like that for this week’s sermon. But it’s perfect because Jesus says about this farmer, sows, sleeps, gets up, harvests… How did that happen? He’s a know-nothing farmer. He didn’t pry open the seed, rearrange the parts, glue them together, make a little sprout. It happened. The germinating power of growth was in the seed, not in the farmer.
And then here’s the third thing. To make His point even clearer, what stands out to you? What seems unusual? What does Jesus seem to be emphasizing, and it’s there in verse 28. The earth produces by itself. In Greek, automate, you can hear from which we get our word automatically. The ground bears fruit automate, by itself.
So put that all together. The farmer sleeper, great champion sleeper, sees a harvest, doesn’t have a clue. As if Jesus’ point were not clear enough, He says the harvest came automate, by itself. This is what the kingdom is like, Jesus is saying. Yes, the kingdom is God’s reign and rule. In particular here He’s talking about the human growth of the kingdom. You look at verse 29, the depiction of a harvest is a metaphor for the final judgment. You see this in Joel 3, in Matthew 9, in Revelation 14, there will be a harvest of people, brought into the secretly growing kingdom. And how did they get there? Who was there this great harvest of souls brought into the kingdom?
Well, Jesus is telling us not ultimately by the hard work and by the ingenuity and the creativity of the farmer, but by the power of the seed that was sown.
We need to be careful with our language when we describe the kingdom. Others have brought this out in this series. We do not build the kingdom. We may do kingdom work in the sense that our activities and virtues reflect the values and priorities of the kingdom, but you never find the New Testament telling us to go expand the kingdom, bring the kingdom, establish the kingdom. We sow the seed; the kingdom itself is what God brings forth. The kingdom is a God-wrought miracle, not the product ultimately of human effort and strategy.
In his classic book on New Testament theology, George Eldon Ladd said this: The supernatural character of the present kingdom is confirmed by the words found in association with it. A number of verbs are used with the kingdom itself as the subject. The kingdom can draw near to people. It can come, arrive, appear, be active. God can give the kingdom to people, but they do not give the kingdom to one another. Men and women can enter the kingdom, but they are never sent to erect it or build it. People can receive the kingdom, inherit the kingdom, possess the kingdom, but they are never to establish it. They can reject the kingdom, that is refuse to enter it or receive it, but they cannot destroy it. They can look for it, pray for its coming and seek it, but they cannot bring it.
I know many of us have used that language before about building the kingdom or going out to establish the kingdom, but it really is an important point here, and Jesus underlines it so clearly for us. How does the kingdom grow? How does the kingdom come? The secret is in the seed. And what is the seed? Well, we’d be right to assume that the seed here is the Word of God. Isn’t that what we saw in the parable of the sower? The soil is where Jesus makes clear that the seed is the Word that fell among the different soils of the human heart. It’s the seed of the Word of God that will germinate, sprout, shoot forth, and bear fruit.
The Word, in all of our ministry, and all that you want to do for your children, and all that you want to pass on to another generation, and all that we want to accomplish in this church, the Word is enough.
Now I understand there’s a way to abuse this and think we don’t have to do anything. Jesus is giving us sort of extreme example to make a point. We’re thankful for brains and brawn and we want to work hard and there’s lots of things in the Bible about making effort, or look to the ant and his hard work, or his wisdom. Paul writes his letters and he obviously cares about good order in the churches. And so yes, we, we do all of those things.
But listen, we have a lot of educated people here. We like plans, we like ideas, we like to make sure the structure, the strategy, the vision, we want things to be right and in good order, all of which does matter absolutely.
Remember what the psalmist says, unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. God must do the work if we want anything of eternal significance to happen in our midst or through our lives. And believe me, I am preaching to myself as much as to any of you, probably more to myself than to any of you.
I’ve said this before and it is not feigned humility and it’s not looking for pats on the back, it’s, maybe it’s my pride or maybe it’s the devil, I don’t know. I get done with most sermons and feel like, ehh, that felt kinda eh, I hope that did something, I hope that wasn’t a waste of time. I don’t know if there are certain preachers who get done and think that probably should go in a book somewhere, or that’s gonna probably get a lot of downloads. I honestly never, never feel that way.
And during coronavirus especially, I know I speak for many pastors, it can feel as if God’s work is just, just on hold. It’s nice to see many of you here. We still have many more empty seats than people in the pew. I can’t even see your full faces, or shake your hand, or talk to you at the line after the service. I certainly can’t see whatever hundreds of people we have watching online.
So it can feel like ministry is just sort of, yeah, let’s just kinda keep it afloat, try to pay the bills, try to keep some services going, try to keep people somewhat engaged with one another and with the church and with the Lord Jesus. That’s not a good feeling. You feel that, I’m sure, in your own life, in your own work.
And we can be tempted to think that coronavirus has put God and His work on hold. Or even on our best normal Sundays, if this room were filled, we can still feel like the real action in the world is somewhere else. The important things, the real movers and shakers, the things you’re going to see on TV, the things you’re going to read about on your phone, all of the important things, that’s, that’s Washington, that’s New York, that’s London, or it’s a research lab somewhere coming up with a vaccine, or it’s, it’s on the campaign trail for President, or it’s what Hollywood produces, or it’s in some tank or fighter jet somewhere, that’s the really important stuff going on in the world. It’s nice that we can come together, it helps us feel good, have a sermon, sing some songs.
That’s what the devil wants us to think. That’s exactly what he wants us to think. That’s what he wants pastors to think. What do I really have to offer as a preacher? It’s what he wants you to think as a parent. What do I really have to give? It’s what he wants stay-at-home moms to think. It’s what he wants any of us to think.
Well, here’s what you have, here’s what I have: You have seed. Do you and I trust in the Word of God to do the work of God?
Isaiah 55: For as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth. It shall not return to Me empty. It shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
No matter how gifted or ungifted, skilled or unskilled, the preacher may be, the Word of the Lord is never uttered in vain. It always accomplishes God’s purposes. It may sprout forth immediately, it may lay dormant for many years, it may simply serve to harden the soil, but it will not return empty. The Word is always working.
The farmer does nothing in this parable except sow. And then he sleeps and then he wakes up and there’s a harvest, he doesn’t know how, it happens automatically. The power is not in the sower, but in the seed.
I’ve probably said before, I am not concerned that you remember the three points from all my sermons. I don’t remember the three points from my sermons come tomorrow probably. Here’s what I’m after: Good soil, that’s what God has to do in your heart, and faithful sowing. The Word will work. You may not remember more than a handful of sermons or Bible studies in your whole life. Most of your quiet times may seem lifeless and rote, but you’re getting the Word, you’re getting seed, and the seed grown and it eventually sprouts and bears fruit. We know not how. It happens by itself.
It may not seem like those long days with your children are doing anything, but think of what Dory said to Nemo’s dad: Just keep sowing, just keep sowing, just keep sowing.
Do you remember when you were a new Christian? Or maybe if, if you kinda grew up in the church like I did and don’t have a dramatic story, do you, you certainly have come across a brand new baby Christian, someone just immediately, spontaneously it seems, on fire for the Lord, and you see this person who a year ago or months ago or even weeks ago, didn’t seem to be much of anything, and now he or she is devouring every theological book they can find, they’re volunteering for everything at church, they’re sharing their testimony, they’re praying, they’re treating people in a whole new way, and you think where did that come from? Automate, by itself, by the power inherent in the Word of God. Do you believe that that still happens? That it’s still happening? That it can happen? That it will happen?
The only hope we have for the success of this ministry is the power inherent in the Word of God. Everything depends upon the Word doing the work. The kingdom cannot be explained by human insight. And if you can explain it, you are not talking about God’s kingdom, you’re talking about some man-made empire or earthly kingdom.
So do not be anxious. Do not fret over small numbers or small beginnings or even big setbacks. Do not try to build what you only can receive. Do not hold back what God has given you to sow. And so we wait for God’s work to be accomplished in God’s way.
O brothers and sisters, God does not want you to think that 2020 is just a big pause year for the work of the kingdom. All your travel may be paused, your vacations maybe had to get rearranged, maybe you’re still working at home, you’re not going to the office. Maybe you haven’t been able to see your family. A lot of things have been canceled, delayed, paused. But not the work of the kingdom. Not the power inherent in the seed of the Word of God. His work is to bring men and women to Himself in faith and repentance, ultimately to renew the heavens and the earth and He will do it, by his appointed means, through the germinating power of the seed of the Word.
I’ve maybe said this before, but think about a seed. You put a seed into the ground. If you were to be buried alive, bad thought I know, under several feet of dirt, you can’t get out. You go to the beach and, you know, you, you know, your kid says “now bury me” and it’s fun until “get me out, get me out, get me out!” And that’s just, you know, this much sand. You can go six inches, you go a foot down, you’re through. But you put a tiny, almost microscopic seed in there, and it in years can grow so big you need trucks to pull it over.
The effectiveness of this church’s ministry, from the pulpit, from the classroom, from your personal devotional life to your personal sharing of the Gospel, is always and only dependent upon the fruitfulness of the Word of God. Put our hope in the Word and we may be surprised, but we will not be disappointed. This is probably true for almost everyone in this room. You could really do to sleep more, and to sow more. Just keep sowing. And God will surprise us with a harvest we could not have imagined.
Let’s pray. Our gracious heavenly Father, we give thanks for Your Word. There is power in this Word. We don’t often feel it, we don’t always see it, it doesn’t feel like that when we’re reading it around the dinner table, it doesn’t always feel like that when we’re even preaching it behind a great big pulpit, but there’s power in the seed. And so keep us faithful to sow. Forgive us for being fretful and anxious. Forgive us for thinking it depends upon us. Forgive us for thinking that somehow Your Word is bound, even when the whole world may seem shut down. And we pray that you would bring such a great harvest through the Word. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.