“[Jesus] said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 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. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’ ”
Readers of the parables of Jesus in Mark 4 are struck by the fact that the extraordinary results of the kingdom of God come about through ordinary means. We have already seen something of this in the parable of the sower. The planting of the kingdom through the spreading of God’s Word is, in one sense, not any more unusual than the regular cycle of sowing the seed and waiting for it to persevere through various obstacles until it produces fruit (vv. 1–20). There is nothing flashy about farming, and there is nothing particularly attention-grabbing about the growth of the kingdom. We notice the kingdom’s glory only when it comes to full maturity in the production of a thirty-, sixty-, or hundredfold yield.
The parable of the growing seed in Mark 4:26–29 teaches a similar lesson. Using a similar farming metaphor, Christ again compares the planting of the kingdom to scattering seed on the ground. This time, however, our Lord stresses not the soil in which the seed is sown but the mystery of the kingdom’s slow and steady growth. In one respect, the sower does not do very much. He scatters seed and then goes about His ordinary daily business, sleeping and rising night and day. But during this time, the seed, unseen to him, germinates and slowly grows. He cannot exactly see the seed growing; all he can do is measure the height of a plant once it has grown. Jesus stresses patience in this parable—the sower does almost nothing for the harvest. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that this is not a call to passivity. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 3:6, some believers focus on planting seed (evangelism) and others focus on watering (teaching and discipling); however, even in these activities, God is the one who gives the growth. That is Jesus’ point in today’s passage. Like the sower who does not impart growth to the seed, believers who labor in the fields of the Lord’s harvest do not make the kingdom mature. That is the work of God alone.
Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Mark: “We often do not know what God does with our service. We plant the seed, go to bed, and, while we sleep, God germinates the seed so that life grows and eventually produces a full harvest. Then God Himself reaps for His own glory.” We are called not to employ fancy means in order to spark kingdom growth, for the actual growth of the kingdom is not our job. Instead, we are to be faithful to His call and His methods, trusting Him to bring the growth.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
In various ways, the church is tempted to bring about the growth of the kingdom of God. Many will try to make the gospel less offensive or will try to use methods of growing the kingdom other than the ordinary means the Lord has given us. When we do this, however, any growth we see is almost certainly going to be superficial. Thus, we must preach the gospel faithfully and trust God for the harvest. Only then will lasting fruit result.