Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Growing and Sowing Believer

The two parables that are recorded in Mark 4:26-34, the growing seed and the mustard seed, illustrate and teach about the growing and sowing believer, and they follow the parable of the glowing believer. The text reads:
And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? [It is] like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.

And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear [it]. But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.
Sowingvv. 26-29

The parable of the growing seed – vv. 26-29 – is unique to Mark’s gospel, and it supplements the parable of the sower/soils by explaining in more depth the growth of the seed in the good soil. We have learned from the sower/soils parable that only one-fourth of the ground will bear fruit. That should not dissuade the believer from being a faithful sower. This first parable reminds us that we are to sow, sow some more, and continue sowing! This is the sole responsibility, authority, and privilege of the Lord’s churches. We are to be groups of gospel seed sowers; scattering the gospel seed anywhere and everywhere; regardless of the soil’s condition. According to this parable we have no power, ability, or even awareness of whether or not the seed will grow, or, for that matter, how the seed grows. We are simply called to ceaselessly sow the seed. As Warren Wiersbe writes:
We cannot make the seed grow; in fact we cannot even explain how it grows. There is a mystery to the growth of the seed and the development of the harvest.
This ignorance of how it works and inability to make it work requires that we exhibit patience in the work and trust in the Father; as well as His seed.

This I do not know from experience, but I do know it from observation; farming requires faith, patience, and hard work. A farmer has zero control over the environment. He can prepare the ground, plant the seed, and cultivate the field. But he can no more make the seed grow than he can make the rain fall. He can only do what he can do when he can do it and patiently trust God with the rest.
Therefore we are to faithfully, persistently, and patiently sow the seed; even though we know that 75% of the ground will not produce good fruit. It is easy to become discouraged when only 25% of the ground yields a harvest. That is why Paul encouraged the saints with these words:
Galatians 6:8-9 – “He that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

1 Corinthians 15:58 – “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
Not even all of the ones who heard Jesus preach would repent of their sins and trust Him as their Lord and Savior. Many pseudo-disciples turned back and would no longer follow Christ because he preached the gospel unto them. Others became so agitated at his gospel seed sowing that they plotted his death and brought their evil scheme to fruition. But praise God that some seed fell on good ground and continues to fall on good ground.

While we should not become weary in well doing, we must also understand that only God possess the power and the secret of life. John Philips writes in his commentary:
The biologist can dissect the seed and expose and name its various parts. The geneticist can go even deeper into the structure of things and define the seed’s genetic code. He can clone and produce identical plants. He can breed and produce hybrid plants. But if no life is there it is all in vain. The most zealous believer can no more convert a soul than he could create a star.
Conversion is a miracle, as is all life. It is certainly no commonplace occurrence, and it is not something which should be taken for granted. Life is a miracle and it is owed to God. He has seen fit to use His churches to sow the life giving message of Christ crucified, buried, raised, and coming again.

Growingvv. 30-32

Verses 30-32 record the parable of the mustard seed which is also documented in the other synoptics (Matthew 13:31-35; Luke 13-18-19). This parable is a favorite among Biblical critics and cynics; not because they love the truth herein taught. Instead, they believe this parable proves that scripture is errant and that Jesus was either purposely or ignorantly mistaken. Their criticism is related to the mustard seed. That seed is not the smallest of all seeds, and the mustard plant is not a tree. Therefore, say the critics, scripture is errant instead of inerrant, and Christ attempted to deceive his hearers or he didn’t know anything about horticulture.

John MacArthur’s responds well to this criticism in his commentary on Matthew’s account of this parable.
He was not comparing this seed to all other seeds in existence but only to the seeds of garden plants in Palestine. Many seeds, such as those of the wild orchid, are much smaller than the seeds of the mustard plant. But of the many plants grown at that time in the gardens and fields of Palestine, the mustard plant has the smallest seeds, just as Jesus said.

Many varieties of mustard plants are rather small bushes whose branches are too flimsy for birds to nest. But the mustard plant of Palestine often grows to a height of twelve to fifteen feet. At certain times of the year the branches become rigid enough to easily support a bird’s nest.
Christ cannot lie, and the Creator of the universe and everything therein, is not horticulturally impaired. Remember that Jesus was not taping a segment for HGTV. While what he said was literally accurate, his purpose was proverbial. More than anything this parable illustrates the gospel’s influence being small in its origin but growing and eventually ranging worldwide.

Remember that these parables – the soils and the mustard seed – are kingdom parables, and they aid us in unlocking the “mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11). The mystery is this: the kingdom of God is partly but not fully come. The Old Testament hints to this truth in Isaiah 53 (the suffering servant), in messianic Psalms, as well as some other messianic prophecies, but by and large the Old Testament does not clearly separate the two comings of Christ. The Old Testament focuses on the Lord coming and finally dealing with sin, defeating his enemies, and gathering his people into an eternal kingdom of peace, righteousness, and joy.
The mystery is that this kingdom would arrive in two stages: first, with Jesus coming as a suffering servant to atone for sin, and second, with Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Luke 17:20-21; Luke 19:11-12). Christ said that many prophets and righteous people longed to see and hear what we of the new covenant see and hear in regards to the kingdom, but it was a mystery (Matthew 13:16-17).

The mustard seed illustrates how the first coming of Christ was small and insignificant. He was born into a poor, nondescript family. He was birthed in a barn; a manger was his first bassinet. The backwaters of the Roman Empire was his home; “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Initially the kingdom came like a mustard seed and not a military coup. The King has come; first on a donkey with a branch of peace and amnesty. The King is coming, and this time it will be on a great white horse with a sword of judgment. Many kingdom blessings have been fulfilled, but the consummation is still future.

John Piper writes:
The kingdom really has arrived. Unprecedented fulfillments of God's purposes are in the offing. The King has come. The King has dealt with sin once for all in the sacrifice of himself. The King sits at the Father's right hand and reigns now until all his enemies are under his feet. The King's righteousness is now already ours by faith. The King's Spirit is now already dwelling in us. The King's holiness is now already being produced in us. The King's joy and peace have now already been given to us. The King's victory over Satan is now already ours as we use the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. The King's power to witness is now already available to us. And the King's gifts—the gifts of his Spirit—are now already available for ministry.

And now with a sober awareness of the mystery of the kingdom—present yet future; fulfilled but not consummated—let us go on as a church to seek the kingdom first—to discover all we yet should be for the salvation of lost sinners and the glory of King Jesus!

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