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As I’m writing this, I’m sitting at my desk in my office in Munich, Germany, thinking about the newest statistics about Christianity in Germany. According to the numbers in front of me, Christianity is in rapid decline. The country where the Reformation began five hundred years ago will soon have a majority of the population who don’t call themselves Christians. Even seventy years ago in post–World War II Germany, 95 percent of the people were members either of the Roman Catholic Church or of a Protestant church. Just in 2018, the Protestant state churches lost another 2 percent of their members. But even more alarming is that of members of the Protestant state churches, an average of only 3.4 percent attend a church service on any given Sunday, which amounts to less than 1 percent of the population in Germany. The number of Christians in free (non-state) churches continues to be negligible. Even more alarming is the trend toward liberalism in nearly all denominations. At times, it seems as if preaching the gospel in Germany is a waste of time. Should I simply give up and go to a place where the good news will be more eagerly received?
You might be living in a place that is less devoid of gospel preaching, but surely you must have already experienced the sense that the kingdom of God is seemingly not advancing as you expected. You muster all your courage to take a stand for Christ, only to find blank stares and people turning away from you. That was probably the sense that the disciples of Jesus had during certain periods of our Lord’s earthly ministry.
In Mark 4:26–29, we read how Jesus instructed and encouraged His disciples not to stop preaching the gospel and to trust that the Lord would use their efforts to eventually bring in a plentiful harvest. These words should encourage us, and they should remind us of our task and the limits of it.
Verse 26 introduces the parable and helps us see our task: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.” Similar to the better-known parable of the sower at the beginning of this chapter, Jesus talks about the kingdom of God as coming through scattered seed. He had just explained that the seed is the Word of God (v. 14). Clearly, then, the task given to all of us is to sow the seed by preaching the Word.
Yet, often we will be disappointed when it seems that all our efforts are to no avail. This might drive us to keep pushing. It might also cause us to try out every new gimmick in the hope of producing the desired results. But Jesus has better advice for those who have faithfully scattered seed: “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” (vv. 27–28). Note first that growth happens “automatically.” When good seed falls on prepared ground, it will sprout and grow. The power for that growth lies in the seed itself. It’s the powerful Word that will accomplish that for which it has been sent. Second, it takes time for the scattered seed to grow. In the earlier parable of the sower, Jesus had pointed out that the seed that seemingly grew quickly ended up not producing fruit (vv. 5ff.).
In the concluding verse, we finally read that we do not need to fear that the kingdom of God will not succeed: “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (v. 29). This is liberating. We are called simply to be ambassadors for Christ. We just need to scatter the seed. The rest is God’s work. And He will do it. His kingdom will come just as He has ordained it.
We can’t be certain that all our friends will turn to Christ. But we can be certain that God does not demand from us what only He can do. He will gather the elect—in your circle of friends as well as in Germany. When Christ returns to bring in the harvest, there will be a multitude from every tribe and language and people and nation. He will do it in His time until the task is completed. So, let’s keep scattering the seed of the gospel and marvel at what God will do through His Word.