SERMON: Kingdom Parables | Mark 4:26–34

Kingdom Parables | Mark 4:26–34
Shaun Marksbury | Quacco Baptist Church
Sunday Evening Service | 25 June, 2017

This evening, we are continuing our study in the parables.  We are looking at two parables that give us insight into the nature of the Kingdom of God.  We will see that the kingdom grows mysteriously and that the kingdom grows chiefly.



Sermon Notes

Kingdom Parables | Mark 4:26–34
Shaun Marksbury | Quacco Baptist Church
Sunday Evening Service | 25 June, 2017

I.               Introduction

Last time, we talked about The Parable of the Lamp and The Parable of the Measure.  These parables emphasize the need for the His disciples to hear the Word and deliver it to others faithfully.  So, we have two points this evening: those hearing God’s Word must shine it out faithfully, and those hearing God’s Word must measure it out faithfully.

We see in vv. 33–34 in this passage a reminder that Jesus explained these parables to His disciples.  How many times has hearing been mentioned in this chapter?  Eleven by my count.  Some are supernaturally hindered, and some will not hear because of their sin.  Others have ears to hear. 

It’s vital that we understand this, for it is only the seed of the implanted Word that causes growth.  We may be tempted to lean too much on the teaching of others for understanding truth, such as a good and godly Bible teacher, but we can’t place our confidence in people.  However, we must hear the word of the kingdom, for any other word will not cause us to grow. 

This evening, we are continuing our study in the parables.  We are looking at two parables that give us insight into the nature of the Kingdom of God.  We will see that the kingdom grows mysteriously and that the kingdom grows chiefly. 

II.            The Kingdom Grows Mysteriously (vv. 26–29)

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

While we know a good bit about the growth cycle of plants, we don’t know everything.  That’s not to say that we can’t know much more thorough investigation, but we must admit that we have neither observed nor concluded all there is to know.  In a similar way, Scripture gives us need insight into spiritual botany, but God alone knows the full mystery of kingdom growth.

The question here is what is the Kingdom image: is it like a seed (as in v. 30), a man, or the entire act?  The image of the sower casting the seed comes back to mind, but we see that the soil produces.  It seems that Jesus is saying that the entire parable is what the kingdom is like, so let’s proceed and look at the components.

We see that the sower “sleeps and rises night and day,” perhaps because the Hebrew day begins at sundown.  He falls asleep after planting the seed.  That might not seem strange in itself, but we read nothing more of his efforts.  He awakens and sleeps again.  Usually a farmer is more involved in his crops than this farmer seems to be, so the focus here is not on the farmer’s efforts.  The seed sprouts (and literally, the sprout “lengthens”) as growing all on its own.

Consider the rest in the kingdom!  After many worries in ministry this week, this thought struck me.  We may sometimes fret over the soul of an individual, keeping ourselves up at night with worry and doubt.  We may worry over the church or future ministry.  We’re not called to have some kind of a Zen, “que sera sera” attitude, but God has also given us the gift of sleep and removed the power of sprouting and growth from our hands.  Losing sleep will not win one lost soul, for it is not the worker in the field who causes the increase.

Notice that “the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.”  The how is somewhat emphasized, as in “How knows not he!”  He understands that the seed needs to be in the ground and that it needs rain.  Even so, he only knows the conditions necessary for growth to take place; he doesn’t know what process causes the seed to grow.  There’s a sense of dependence.  Similarly, we know we need to be faithfully proclaiming the Word of God here for Christians to grow and mature, but God will mysteriously cause the growth.  Indeed, the work of the farmer isn’t even in view here, for the credit of the harvest is beyond his efforts. 

1 Cor 3:5–9 comes into view:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

It is all God doing the work.  Literally, v. 28 says, “The earth produces automatically.”  That is, God has so designed plants grow naturally, without human intervention.  Similarly, a person is not born again through their own effort but by the work of God alone.

  • John 1:12–13—“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

  • John 3:5–8—“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ ”

  • John 6:44—“ No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

  • This is why it’s so foolish for us to think that we need to help God out in getting people saved.  Sometimes churches will dim the house lights and play music softly to give people an emotional sense that God is moving them.  I’ve heard of evangelistic crusades where they have people assigned in crowds to come forward so as to encourage others to come forward.  These kinds of efforts may be well-intentioned (though not all are), but they tacitly deny the power of gospel.

  • Paul was a well-educated man.  However, when he preached, it was all about the Word of God.  In 1 Cor 2:1–5, he says, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
The sense here is almost that the crop decides when it’s ready.  Today, the kingdom is not yet ready, and citizens are still being added.  2 Cor 4:15—“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”

The kingdom of God gains citizens every day and is therefore spiritual today.  Today, the kingdom of God is not yet ready, with each conversion being another sprout appearing in the field. 

Even so, Revelation 20–21 speaks of the future, earthly kingdom reign of Christ and the eternal reign over the New Heavens and New Earth.  God is all in all and is therefore sovereign over these different spheres.  At the right time, though, the sickle will free God’s people for His future kingdom. 1 Th 2:19—“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.” 

Christians share the gospel, but we must trust the unseen Spirit do His mysterious work to bring kingdom growth.  Once God determines the growth to be ready, He’ll apply the sickle and bring all of His people into His future kingdom.

III.         The Kingdom Grows Chiefly (vv. 30–34)

30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. 
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”

Now, the mustard seed isn’t the smallest seed of all the world.  However, it’s the smallest of all kosher seeds, and one that’s familiar to Christ’s audience.  “Mustard seeds are around 1/10th of an inch in diameter.”[1] 

Jesus used the mustard seed proverbially to speak of the grand results of even a small faith (Mt 17:20).  Here, image is that the kingdom of God begins small, with the Word and the work of twelve, but it grows exponentially.  The immediate picture of this is Christ Himself, the Living Word.  He started small—a baby born in a manger, under shameful conditions.  Yet, His ministry had encompassed the entire region.  From the 120 disciples faithfully awaiting in Jerusalem in Acts 1–2 came 3,000 converts (Acts 2:41).

These wild birds picture the Gentile peoples, not the Satanic birds in the Parable of the Sower.  It can seem like this is some nefarious act, the birds resting in the branches, especially after the Parable of the Sower!  And certainly, the kingdom is large enough to attract pretenders.  Since the kingdom grows so large, it’s inevitable that false believers take up residence within the church.  As the net of the kingdom draws in fish, some will be bad and separated at the judgment (Mt 13:47–50).

However, just as the mustard seed can refer to the kingdom in this parable and faith in another, we need to be careful not to make assumptions.  This is a case where the greater context of Scripture will help us.

Old Testament references use these images to describe the nations coming to Israel.  MacArthur, “In the Old Testament, the image of a tree providing safe haven to the birds was used to illustrate kingdoms that were so mighty they brought stability and blessing to nations around them (cf. Dan. 4:10–12, 20–22 Ezek. 31:3–6).”[2]

For instance, in Dan. 4:10–12, we read,

The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. 11 The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.

Now, that was Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream.  The Lord reveals to him how his pagan kingdom will grow.  The surrounding peoples were blessed even with this kind of society.

Now, switching to the Millennial Kingdom, we read this in Eze 17:23—“On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest.”  There again, we see that the birds come to nest, a sign of blessing.

This plant is growing to be a great kingdom regardless of human effort for or against it.  Think about those who would persecute the church.  I believe it was Alistar Begg who said that the same Paul who once tried to put Christians to death now finds rest in the branches of this growing kingdom.  There are places in this world where they try to stamp out Christianity, but the kingdom continues to grow.  You and I can take rest in this growing plant, like the birds of the air, knowing that God will never allow His work to be destroyed.

The kingdom is large enough for all peoples.  Those who follow the Word that Christ gave to His disciples will find a resting place in the kingdom of God, regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic background.  If we believe, we will find rest in the gospel of the kingdom, which is and which is to come.

Mark says here that Jesus “spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.”  Some can be with the Lord and hearing His teaching without observing it within themselves.  As 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”  If you are in the faith, then follow the command of Christ to beware false teachers infiltrating the church with fruit foreign to the kingdom (Mt 7:15–20).  

IV.         Final Thoughts

Individually, you are not going to know how the Spirit is working in you or in anyone else.  You may awaken to find another Christian has grown by inches while you might think your growth has halted.  Or, you may not realize that you’ve grown until the day of harvest.  There’s a mystery to it that is not directly related to our human efforts.  Yes, it’s important to follow Scripture in your walk, but it’s God that gives you the increase.  Trust in Him to accomplish His work.

This applies as you engage in gospel ministry.  You may be tempted to take everything into your hands, as though you are responsible for the salvation of each and every sinner you encounter.  Know that the truth is that God causes the increase and the growth.  We can’t allow the “what if’s” govern our ministry.  Trust in the sovereign control of the Lord.

[1] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Mk 4:31.
[2] John MacArthur, Mark 1–8: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2015), 220.

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