Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 27, 2009

Sermon on Mark 4:26-32

GOD’S KINGDOM GROWS

  1. Without our help
  2. With God’s blessing

Text: Mark 4:26-32

Introduction

Earlier this month, my wife’s parents visited us for a week.  Every time they visit, it seems that my father-in-law accomplishes more in our house and around our property in one week than we do in one year.  This time, his major accomplishment was helping my wife set up a garden.  With all the deer that visit this property, it’s hard for our flowers to grow, let alone vegetables.  But the fenced-in area along our main driveway turned out to be the perfect place for a container garden.  My wife’s father built the soil containers that are now housed inside that area.  My wife now goes out there daily to water the soil and to show our children the noticeable growth that takes place from day to day.  It’s neat for us – and especially for our kids – to see that growth.  We don’t really do much at all.  Sure, the seeds had to be planted, and the soil has to be watered, but it’s not as if someone stands out there every hour of the day and coaches the garden along.  Those seeds know exactly what to do.  With the proper nourishment, they grow without our intervention.

Gardening and farming were a big part of life in Jesus’ day.  Drawing on that reality, Jesus often used analogies about planting or farming in order to explain different truths about the kingdom of God.  Perhaps you remember Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed, or his parable of the weeds among the wheat.  Jesus used earthly stories like those to relate heavenly truths to his listeners.  Jesus does the same for us in today’s Gospel.  Saint Mark records two “planting parables” that Jesus uses to express heavenly truths – the parable of the growing seed, and the parable of the mustard seed.  Both of Jesus’ stories show us how God’s kingdom grows, but each story reveals a different truth about the growth of God’s kingdom.  This morning, Jesus’ parables will teach us that God’s kingdom grows without our help, and that it growth with God’s blessing.

I.

Sometimes Jesus explained several details of a parable.  In other cases, he simply stated the parable’s main point, but did not appear to be concerned about the minor details.  That’s the situation we have in today’s Gospel.  Some Bible scholars have tried to define what each element in the parable represents—the sower, the ground, the seed, the harvest.  Since Jesus does not offer specific explanations for each detail, it does not benefit us all that much if we try to identify every aspect of Jesus’ story.  So let’s concentrate on the specific aspect of the kingdom of God that each parable teaches us.  In the parable of the growing seed, Jesus teaches us that God’s kingdom of grace grows without our help.

Notice what Jesus says about the growth of the seed in the opening words of the first parable.  “A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”  The seed of the gospel does not grow with someone’s help or effort.  God certainly uses ministers and lay people as his instruments who bring the gospel to other people, but that is all we are – instruments.  No one can claim credit for the growth of the gospel-seed any more than my family can take credit for the fact that our new garden is growing.

Jesus emphasizes that the seed of the gospel grows by its own power.  Verse 27 literally says, “the seed sprouts and makes itself long (i.e. grow).”  The seed grows by its own power.  The gospel’s power is not in the persuasiveness of the preacher or the cleverness of the cleric.  The gospel’s power comes from the potency of God’s Word.  And that powerful word fosters continual growth.  Jesus says, “All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.”  The gospel-seed sprouts and grows when Christ crucified is preached, when sins are washed away at the baptismal font, and when faith is strengthened and sin’s burden is removed in the Lord’s Supper.  God’s kingdom grows only when God’s gospel is proclaimed.

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about the “church growth movement.”  The basic purpose behind this movement is to get more people in Christian churches by using approaches that will supposedly attract the unchurched.  To be fair, some of this is common sense.  If visitors are turned off because your bathrooms are dingy and dirty, there’s no parking space, and members are cold and unfriendly, then perhaps it’s time to clean the restrooms, expand the parking lot, and start welcoming people with genuine Christian warmth.

Advice like that is well and good, but not everything the church growth movement has to say falls along the lines of common sense and basic decency.  To a great extent, the church growth movement says that if something prevents people from coming into the church, the church should get rid of whatever the supposed problem is.  If the basic biblical message about law and gospel doesn’t reach people, then we’ll just have to reach those people with something else and in some other way.  If talking about sin and God’s justice turns people off, then don’t preach the law so that it condemns; preach so that the law sounds like good advice.  If people don’t care for the idea that God’s forgiveness comes to us only through faith in Jesus, then turn the Savior into a psychotherapist.  Throw out the gospel and substitute it with something more attractive.  Talk about coping skills or relationships or parenting or finances, find a way to shove a sentence or two about Jesus in the middle of the sermon, and then you’ll be relevant and attractive to today’s culture.

Certainly it pains us to see so many in our world reject the saving gospel message about Jesus Christ.  But we cannot do anything to enhance the gospel’s growth any more than you can coach, coddle, and cajole a seed in the ground to grow.  Never mind that the Old Testament prophets often faced rejection from God’s people.  Never mind that Jesus’ ministry was a dismal failure by twenty-first century standards.  Our sinful nature does not like to hear that God’s kingdom grows without our help, so we love to help God along.  We’ll find a way to market his Word.  We’ll find a way to sell the church to the culture.

Perhaps it appears that God needs our help for his kingdom to grow – or, more specifically, that we think God needs our help.  But what is the end result?  The reality is that if the gospel is not being preached, or if the gospel is being substituted with something else, then God’s kingdom cannot grow.  If Jesus’ death and resurrection are substituted with anything else, the kingdom of God is shrinking instead of growing.  And that’s a sure-fire plan to grow the kingdom of hell, not the kingdom of heaven.

God’s kingdom does not grow because of us.  We may plant the seed of the gospel, but we cannot make that seed grow.  The gospel itself does the growing.  The gospel grows God’s kingdom by distributing the forgiveness of sins that Christ’s redemption has brought us – even forgiveness for the times we have failed to trust the gospel’s own power to grow.  The gospel is God’s solution for all our sins.  The gospel message centers around a person – the God man, Jesus Christ.  The story of Jesus’ life on this earth is truly gospel – good news!  Christ Jesus is the only one who walked on this earth and committed no sin.  Christ Jesus is the only one whose death could pay for your sins and the sins of the world.  Christ Jesus is the only one who has come back to life and guaranteed that our sins are washed away in his blood.  Christ Jesus is our perfect assurance that God will bring us and all believers in Christ to heaven on the Last Day.

II.

The seed of the gospel gets its power only through the work and message of Jesus Christ.  The kingdom of God does not grow by our own efforts, but only through the grace of God.  That same grace not only makes God’s kingdom grow, but now we learn that his kingdom grows with tremendous blessings.  That’s the point Jesus brings out in the second of our two parables.  Jesus said, “[The kingdom of God] is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”

Jesus compares the beginning of God’s kingdom to a tiny mustard seed.  The kingdom of God had a tiny, seemingly insignificant beginning.  God’s kingdom began in a sense with twelve uneducated Jews – some ex-fishermen, a former tax collector – plain, ordinary people.  After Jesus ascended into heaven, the church numbered about 120 – about the size of our membership!  The beginning of God’s kingdom could be compared to a speck of dust or a grain of sand.

But look!  Look at what has happened to God’s kingdom!  The mustard seed you once held in the palm of your hand grows and becomes a plant – practically a tree – that’s ten to fifteen feet high!  Such an insignificant beginning, yet such amazing results!  Think of the day of Pentecost that we just celebrated four weeks ago.  Remember the miracle of that day.  The church began with about 120 followers of Jesus, led by a handful of disciples who were still afraid of Jesus’ enemies.  In one day, with God’s blessing and through the Holy Spirit’s miracle, the church added three thousand people to its roster.  And that was only the beginning!  Think of the millions and billions of souls that have been won for Christ throughout history.  Think about how God’s kingdom has grown to incalculable proportions!

I see dozens of those souls in this church this morning.  Your presence here today and the faith that brought you to God’s house today is evidence of God blessing the gospel-seed by bringing you into his family.  When you confess the Creed after this sermon, you aren’t just rattling off a post-sermon ritual.  Your confession attests to the Holy Spirit’s work.  Your confession attests that the Word of God has led you to know and believe that Jesus Christ died for you.  Your confession attests that the waters of baptism have personally delivered Jesus’ cleansing and righteousness to you.  Your confession is a testimony to the fact that God blessed the gospel seed when he blessed you with faith in Christ and forgiveness through Christ.

And God’s kingdom has continued to grow in our own congregation.  I will be the first to admit how hard it is to keep that in perspective.  A couple of years ago, we saw about two dozen people leave our membership and move from our area.  Of course, that wasn’t a loss for the kingdom of God, but when you see those empty pews on Sunday morning, it sure feels that way.  And yet the Holy Spirit has still been at work in our congregation.  We are welcoming new members into our congregation this summer.  We witnessed an adult baptism last Sunday and another infant baptism is just around the corner.  That news will never made the headlines of the Chronicle.  The death of Michael Jackson makes headlines for days; the baptism of a new believer doesn’t even get a passing mention in the local paper.  But it makes headlines in heaven.  Jesus tells us that the angels rejoice when another sinner is brought to repentance and faith.  The angels sing and celebrate when the kingdom of God grows.  And so can we!

Conclusion

So who gets the credit for these blessings?  Is it me?  Let me be the first to say, “No!”  Is it our staff?  No.  Is it you?  No again.  The fact that we have seen God’s kingdom grow in our church family has precious little to do with us.  The fact that we have seen such wonderful blessings is a strong, vivid reminder that God’s kingdom grows with God’s blessings.  Save the gimmicks and marketing tricks for your business.  Let the church’s business be about planting the seed, and let God handle the rest.  Amen.

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Responses

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I can totally relate. I grew up helping my parents in the family’s veggie gardens. Then a couple of years ago I too started container gardening, which I really love. I really am helped by this sermon and the points, as I continue on my spiritual journey. I mention this post in today’s blog post on my blog. Thanks


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