1. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer. Amen. We know not how, and we do not know when, but God works according to His perfect will and His perfect timing in the growth of His Kingdom. The message from God’s Word today comes from Mark 4:26-34, it’s entitled, “God’s Kingdom Growth,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. In many aspects of our high-tech world these days, we’ve come to think of things that are automatic to also be quick. We can set up automatic payments for our bills so that when we have a charge, our bank account automatically pays it, and we don’t have to worry about it. We can set up our contributions to the church automatically so that at any time we designate, our congregation gets the support it needs, and we don’t have to think about it. No waiting. But automatic things also have their drawbacks: they can be too quick. Who of us hasn’t sent a confusing or embarrassing text message to someone because our phone quickly auto-corrected what our fingers tried to type, and it was off and gone before we caught it?
3. But, in the parable of the growing seed from Mark 4:26–29, Jesus says that the planted seed of God’s kingdom grows automatically, but it isn’t always quick. The Greek word is “automatos” in vs. 28, it can be translated as something that happens without a visible cause, like plants growing without help. God sometimes takes his time in allowing that seed to grow. We can’t rush it along, even if it is automatic. We’re called simply to go about our various callings in life night and day and see how God provides growth for his kingdom—sometimes in the perfect patient time.
4. In Mark 4:28 Jesus says that, “The man then goes about his business night and day, and the seed grows without his knowing how: “The earth produces by itself.” The Greek term here is “automatically”—no further intervention is needed or required. The earth produces first the blade and then the ear and then the full grain. The growth happens, and it is good, but the man doesn’t know how—only that in time, a plentiful harvest will come. That’s why it is important for us to hear these parables in Mark 4 today as they concern the nature of the growth for the seeds which land in good soil and bring forth fruit for God’s kingdom.
5. The first parable from Mark 4:26-29 invites reflection on the timing of the growth of God’s Kingdom. It begins with a man who scatters the seed. He doesn’t know how the growth works. He simply does his work, goes to bed, and rises each day. Once it is planted the seed does its thing. But the growth doesn’t happen immediately. It comes in stages—first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain. Finally, when the grain is ripe, the man returns to bring home the harvest. This first parable seems to encourage patience. Plants grow slowly and without the sower’s full understanding. So, it is the same with the reign of God.
6. The second parable in Mark 4:30-32 has to do with the extent of the growth. It focuses on the size of the seed that is sown. This seed is very small—much smaller than the other garden seeds. But do not be deceived. After it is sown and grows to maturity, this little seed surpasses all the other garden plants. Fully grown, it provides a home that is safe and secure for all the birds of the air. This second parable seems to encourage trust. The plant that comes from this seed will grow larger than you might imagine. Again, so it is with the reign of God.
7. If we look back a little further in Mark’s Gospel, we are reminded how Jesus had only recently called His disciples to follow Him in Mark 3:13-19. They had already witnessed incredible works, but they were still on the front end of their life with Jesus. Mark doesn’t give us many clues about what they were expecting Jesus to be or do. But you get the impression that, through these brief parables, Jesus was teaching them His reign would not grow as they might expect.
8. We stand on the other side of Jesus’ life and ministry. We have read about His teachings and heard about His healings. We have mourned His death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and rejoiced in His resurrection. We have observed His giving of the Holy Spirit and have been grafted into the Church. This all took place through the Word of God.
9. But, there are so many who have not believed. They may have heard the Word, but they show no signs of faith or life in Christ. In fact, the number of people in America who identify as Christian is falling—and these numbers were pre-pandemic. We can think of our loved ones who have heard of Jesus and what He has done for us to win our salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil, but they show no signs of believing. In such a context it would be easy for Christians to become discouraged and grow weary. It would be natural to question whether God, who desires all be saved, is really in charge.
10. Into this uncertainty and weariness, these two brief parables offer a word of promise. The promise is simple: God works as we proclaim the Word of Christ. Like plants which begin as nothing but seeds, the life of faith grows from nothing but the commands and promises of Jesus spoken by God’s people. We know not how as Mark 4:27 says, “27He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” We do not know when God grows His kingdom, but God works according to His perfect will and His perfect timing.
11. We must remember that the growth of the kingdom of God is up to God, not us. For what does the parable say? Mark 4:26 & 28 says, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. . . . The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” Christ’s death on the cross has redeemed the whole world, and the kingdom of God is already sown everywhere that Gospel is preached—in you and me, in the people of God in the Church, in your unbelieving loved one, in your atheist neighbor, when they’ve heard the Gospel.
12. The only growth that is going to happen will occur by God’s design. It is God who grants the growth automatically. Maybe it’s not all at the same time or in the same way for every person, but God assures us that the kingdom is there whether people recognize it or not. If it were up to us to accomplish faith or church growth, then surely in 2,000 years we would have figured it out. Only God has the ability to bring about the perfect kingdom.
13. Yet the question still lingers: What do we do then? What do we do about declining churches? What do we do about our seemingly lost loved ones? The answer to those questions is what we need to hear again from Mark 4:27: “[The man] sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” Like the man, we go about our day-to-day business as a child of God in our God-given callings in life. Love and mercy received from God is love and mercy given in our homes and schools and workplaces and communities.
14. We are a people who are called by Baptism into Jesus’ death, formed by grace and forgiveness, shaped by mercy received at the Lord’s Supper, who live by faith and prayer, patience and hope. We confidently ask for God to grant the growth that he wills for us, for those we love, for the Christian Church throughout the world, and for those in whom the kingdom of God is still but a seed. In the end, the harvest will come only when the grain is ripe and when the Lord has given growth to the kingdom as he desires. It is then that the faithful will be gathered and the mystery of how the kingdom grew will be revealed.
15. We will be tempted along the way to try to help things along by our own effort or strength. But just as you can’t force a flower to bloom or don’t always know exactly what makes your mother’s casserole taste so good, in time, the kingdom’s beauty and goodness will be revealed and will be far more joyous than you could have imagined. So rather than stress, know that when it comes to God’s kingdom growth that by the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God will grant the growth in his time and his way. For now, we each live in faithful patience night and day as a child of God, praying in hope for the growth that he has promised will come. Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting. Amen.