“‘The kingdom of God is like this,’ He said. ‘A man scatters seed on the ground; he sleeps and rises — night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows — he doesn’t know how. The soil produces a crop by itself — first the blade, then the head, and then the ripe grain on the head. But as soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.’” (Mark 4:26-29 HCSB)
Happy Father’s Day! My father had a profound impact on my life. To be honest, that’s probably an understatement. I’m not sure his impact can be measured. He was not a perfect man, by anyone’s measure, but he was a man who was transformed by God’s grace. Almost 10 years ago, I wrote these words as I thought about him:
I don’t have many photos of my dad, but there a “gazillion” in my memory (accurate count, last time I checked). He taught me how to be a man and that being a man doesn’t always mean you’re right, or too tough to show kindness, or too macho to love your wife, publicly. He also demonstrated gentle strength and lifetime commitment to his wife, our mother! He taught me what faith in God looked like as he lived it out daily and how to know Jesus, personally as my Lord. He’s the one who prayed with me as I trusted Jesus and committed myself to Him and His Lordship over my life. He taught me what it meant to walk with God. Happy Father’s Day, dad. I wish you were here so I could smell that Brylcreem and Old Spice and feel your five o’clock shadow on my cheek as I hugged you. You taught your boys how to be men and we will forever be “Nick” because of you! I still miss you.
Some of you may have good, positive and even inspiring words about your fathers but some of you don’t. If you don’t have those good memories, positive feelings and inspiring words from your father, don’t despair. There’s still hope. God provides it. Stay with me and I’ll explain…
This week we will consider a rather short and very direct parable that is found only in Mark’s gospel. It is about the growth of seed scattered by a farmer and its growth, purpose and its harvest. At first, you might think that I’m referencing the parable of the sower and soils that we’ve already discussed but that’s not accurate. Jesus follows the parable of the sower with yet another very similar though slightly different story with a very different emphasis, the harvest of the grain. Let’s take a look…
As I mentioned, this parable is unique to Mark and that may be due to its similarity to the previous parable in this passage. Matthew and Luke omit it entirely though they include Jesus’ comments about the light/lamp and all things being revealed that follow the Sower parable. Admittedly, it is easy to read this parable and to read right over the text and miss its very different focus and meaning. You can read it and assume it is simply telling the same story as before in a more concise formula. It isn’t! In this parable, the emphasis is more on the outcome of the seed’s growth and not on the soil conditions impacting the seed’s health and fruitfulness.
Jesus begins this parable by telling us: “The kingdom of God is like this…” In other words, this parable is an extended simile. One of the dangers of a parable or an extended simile is to try and explain or find meaning in every word or detail. Some of the details may have meaning but some of them may not. Be careful reading meaning into them that is not intended. Listen to the details but focus on the purpose of the parable and it will help bring clarity and meaning to those details and help you to know which are important and which are not.
In this parable, I think we can assume the man and the seed are the same as our previous parable. We’ve not encountered anything that would indicate these details have changed. Jesus is scattering the seed and it is the message regarding the rule and reign of God in the lives of men. As he does so, he goes on about life as he “sleeps and rises – night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows – he doesn’t know how.” Seed is sown, life continues night and day, and it begins to sprout and grow but without any understanding by the one who sows the seed. The farmer doesn’t have to have the ability to make the seed sprout or an understanding as to how the seed does so, He simply trusts God.
I’m not a botanist and I have no knowledge or understanding of the science of plants but I do have a peach tree in my backyard with peaches growing on it. How is that possible? I took a small seedling given to me many years ago and I planted it, watered it, protected it and pruned it. Now I’m watching it as the peaches grow larger and begin to take on a beautiful color as they grow, mature and slowly ripen. I didn’t cause that seedling to grow and develop into a peach tree, God did that. I simply recognize His rules or “laws of nature” and follow them. A peach tree will produce peaches if the tree is healthy and has good soil, proper light and enough water.
“The earth produced vegetation: seed-bearing plants according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:12 HCSB)
In a similar way, God created “spiritual” seed and fruit producing “vegetation” according to their kinds – man and woman. “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.’” (Genesis 1:27-28 HCSB) We always tend to read the creation verses and emphasize the part about being fruitful, multiplying, filling the earth and subduing it as though it is only about making more people, more humans like me and making this world MINE! (GRUNT really loud, flex muscles, stand tall, smile proudly, look smug and fulfilled.)
WAIT! If God simply wanted lots of humans who would simply multiply like rabbits, overrun the planet and make it ours, why didn’t He just make more of them? Perhaps it is because what He wanted couldn’t come that way. God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden each evening, talked with them and established relationship with them. What if… just, what if God meant for us to reproduce in more than just a physical way. Making more people in God’s image, people who walked with Him, talked with Him, walked in humble obedience to Him each day? Isn’t that what He meant and wouldn’t that change things? Doesn’t that change everything?
So, we don’t know how God does it but He takes the seed of His Word that is sown and He begins to cause other plants (believers) to sprout and grow. The sower goes on about life, sleeping each night and rising to work each morning, day after day and night after night, while the principles of life and power of God are hard at work. What are they doing? Producing a crop. When the seed of the Word is sown it follows the principles of God by the power of God and produces according to God’s intent and design.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.” (Isaiah 55:8-11 HCSB)
God’s Word will go out from His mouth and it will not return empty. IT WILL ACCOMPLISH what He desires, what pleases Him, what He sends it to do. The seed will fulfill its purpose regardless of the sower’s knowledge and skill because the power of reproduction is not in the sower’s knowledge and skill but in the mind, expression and purpose of God and His Word. Oh wow, that can be a bit humbling for a pastor or evangelist. The effectiveness of God’s Word in causing seed to reproduce is not based on or dependent upon my speaking abilities and skill. It isn’t based in and dependent upon the church’s programs and events. It isn’t even based in and dependent upon the quality or style of our music program or the worship “experience.”
Now, don’t misunderstand me. Quality speaking and communication skills, gospel focused church programs and events, and beautiful, joy filled worship are very, very important and ought to be the goal of every church that seeks to honor God and glorify Christ. But those things must flow out of our love for Him and our desire to serve Him and never flow out of our pride, self-sufficiency and belief that we “produce” the results and growth. You may be the sower but He is the grower.
Finally, when the crop is ready he sends for the sickle because the harvest has come. For us, this imagery takes on a bit of a macabre tone because the sickle and the harvest in scripture are always indicative of the end of the age and judgment. As a teen and a young man, I really didn’t like the idea of Jesus’ swift return, the end of the age and God’s judgment of mankind. I felt like God should hold off because I had plenty of life to experience and enjoy. He could come, but not right now. I was too busy and enamored with life to worry about death and judgment. Even so, come Lord Jesus but wait until I’m old or long dead.
None of us like the idea of personal judgment. In fact, our culture bristles at the concept of personal judgment and speaks loudly of personal freedoms and choices. What makes me cringe is the divisiveness that has developed even when different factions in our culture use the same words. We want and expect everyone and everything to be judged except our own actions and our own choices. Christians want homosexuality and transgenderism judged and condemned by God, but we turn a blind eye at the sexual abuse and sexual sin in our own circles. We want God to condemn and judge the idolatry of the gender identity culture while we embrace and idolize gun ownership, self-defense and personal rights. We seek to deny the freedom of worship to those who do not worship our God even as we cry out in fear of losing our own right to worship. As I said, none of us like being judged but if we fail to judge ourselves, we will be judged by a holy and righteous God.
“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3 HCSB)
But, why hasn’t God’s judgment come? Because the harvest isn’t quite ready. What’s a person to do? Keep sowing. Stay obedient. Keep working. Sleep, rise and sow, night after night and day after day. Don’t judge others, judge yourself. Judge your own actions, your own motivations, your own desires and intentions. God wants you to walk with Him in humble, loving obedience and to be fruitful and multiply – not just more kids, more kids who walk with Him in humble, loving obedience.
“Let the nations be roused and come to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit down to judge all the surrounding nations. Swing the sickle because the harvest is ripe. Come and trample the grapes because the winepress is full; the wine vats overflow because the wickedness of the nations is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the Day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” (Joel 3:12-14 HCSB)
The harvest isn’t quite ready, yet. Are you?