Mark 4:26-34 (Third Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 6—Series B)
“Of Seeds and the Kingdom”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
June 14, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text today is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 4:
And [Jesus] 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.” 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.
For two weeks now my family has been watching four baby robins grow-up before our eyes. Their nest is in the rhododendron right in front of our living room window. What a great view! Very soon it will be time for those little birds to move out of the nest. It’s getting quite cramped in there. They will leave the nest, strengthen their wings, and be off into the world. And what a scary place the world must be to a young robin. Come to think of it, what a scary place the world is, period.
Like a young robin, there are so many things in the world that can hurt and harm us. There are so many things that we can be afraid of. As we look out into that big, wide world out there, it looks like a world where God is absent, or at least far removed from it. The world looks like a place where God’s reign and rule is insignificant, if it’s even there at all.
No wonder some people think of God’s kingdom as a joke. “If He were actually reigning and ruling,” they ask, “would there be so many bad things happening?” Certainly, from our perspective, we sometimes wonder about God’s reign and rule in the world, too. Consider the state of affairs under which we live. In our world, it is legal to kill our own children in the womb. In our world, boys are changing into girls and vice versa, and it’s being accepted! Sexual promiscuity is rampant—including men with men and women with women. God’s creation of marriage—the lifelong union of one man and one women—is being destroyed. Even now we await the Supreme Court’s verdict on whether or not gay marriage should be legal in America. How terrible it is when a court of people thinks it can decide whether or not God is right or wrong!
This just brings us back to the point that it seems like the reign and rule of God in our world is non-existent, or, at the least, very weak and insignificant. And that’s frightening. It’s frightening because we, the Church, are under attack. In some parts of the world, the members of the Lord’s Church endure violent attacks that take their lives. In our country, the attacks against the Church are more subtle, but attacks nevertheless. He who has eyes to see and ears to hear, let him see and hear what is happening in our country and world and take these things to heart.
In Jesus’ parables this morning, our Lord offers His people both comfort and encouragement as they endure the attacks of the world and the popular notion that God’s reign and rule is as unimportant as a joke. Both parables illustrate for us that, even though things look one way, they are really another.
So Jesus said, “The reign and rule of God is like this: as when a man throws the seed on the earth and sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, how he doesn’t know. In an automatic way, the earth bears fruit—first a blade, then an ear, then full grain in the ear.”
Jesus is the man who throws the seed, God’s Word, onto the good ground, those who are living under God’s reign and rule. Without any human assistance, God’s Word produces fruit in the lives of those who have heard it. People who hear the Word come to faith in Jesus as Savior by the power of the Holy Spirit. They then grow and mature in the Christian faith. Despite meager appearances—words on a page, words proclaimed—the fullness of God’s reign and rule will be achieved as people hear the Word, as faith is planted in them, and that saving faith grows and matures bearing the fruits of faith, the Christian life of faith in action. As seemingly insignificant seeds produce a great crop of wheat or corn or tomatoes, so the humble Word of the Gospel creates within us faith that saves, faith that empowers us to live according to the Word of God. As the Lord promised in Isaiah 55, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV) Thus God’s reign and rule comes to us personally as Christ Jesus delivers to us, through the Word, faith, forgiveness, and abundant life. Despite outward appearances to the contrary, you are living proof that the reign and rule of God has come, because it has come to you, by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, through the very seed of God’s Holy Word.
This is a comforting assurance. God is accomplishing through His Word the salvation of people from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. What the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished on Calvary’s cross by His suffering and death, you receive personally from God as the Word is given to you through the Gospel in both the spoken and written Word of the Gospel and in the Sacraments. God’s Word, through these Means of Grace, has delivered to you forgiveness and salvation. The fruits of Jesus’ cross are applied to you and because of Jesus’ shed blood and His innocent suffering and death, you are saved from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. God’s reign and rule has come to us. The Lord “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” (Col. 1:13 ESV) Assurance and comfort, indeed!
But what about the extent of the reach of God’s reign and rule that has so graciously come to us? As we look at the world going to hell in a handbasket, certainly we should wonder whether God’s reign and rule will finally prevail. Is all of this “faith stuff” for nothing? Will the world simply devour and destroy the Church and bring an end to God’s gracious reign and rule in the world?
To encourage us that this will never be so, our Lord Jesus continued in our text, “How should we liken the reign and rule of God or in what parable shall we present it? Thus to a mustard seed, which, when it is sown on the earth, is the smallest of all the seeds of the earth, and when it is sown it comes up and becomes the largest of all the garden plants, and makes large branches, so that the birds of the heavens are able to dwell under its shade.”
The reign and rule of God in Jesus is not in and of itself magnificent by normal worldly standards. That’s why Jesus compares it to a teeny-tiny mustard seed, which, in itself if pretty insignificant. That’s how Jesus’ ministry began as He brought the reign and rule of God into the world. Think about it—calling of fishermen by an unknown rabbi from the obscure town of Nazareth in relatively unimportant Galilee doesn’t make headline news. It doesn’t even make the news because, in worldly terms, it is so inconsequential.
But that tiny mustard seed grows into a large garden shrub. The birds are attracted to its seed and shade. The mustard seed isn’t all that in the beginning, but at the end—wow! Great branches result and the birds benefit. This is what God’s reign and rule in Jesus is like. To the world, the reign and rule of God in Jesus Christ is insignificant, like a mustard seed. The Bible for many is a joke, a work of fiction and not considered to be God’s Word. To others, a God who takes on human flesh and dies to save His people is utter nonsense, not to mention rising from the dead. But it is those seemingly unimportant things to the world that God uses to accomplish His purposes. And so we read in 1 Corinthians 1, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” (1 Cor. 1:27-28 ESV)
Jesus overcame sin, not by a show of power, but by becoming sin for us and suffering death for all the world on a cross. Through the preaching of the message of that cross and resurrection, people are saved. God uses the “mustard seed” things of the world to bring His reign and rule to all the nations, to all peoples—through words, water, bread and wine. So even when God’s reign and rule in the world appears weak and hopeless, like a mustard seed, remember what happens when that seed grows! It becomes a large shrub capable of sheltering the birds. And so does God’s reign and rule.
To better understand this, we turn for a moment to the Old Testament lesson from Ezekiel 17:23. “On the mountain height of Israel will I plant [the cedar sprig], 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.” (Ezek. 17:23 ESV) This is none other than the reign and rule of God in Christ promised in the Old Testament. Here, the large cedar pictures God’s kingdom and the birds represent all peoples coming to dwell under the gracious rule of God’s reign. In Jesus’ parable, instead of a cedar sprig, He uses the largest of the garden plants which grew from the mustard seed to illustrate the kingdom of God, which many people, like birds, will come and live in under shade of the Lord’s reign and rule.
Yes, it is a scary world out there, getting more frightening every day. But God is not absent. He is not far off somewhere. He is ruling and reigning through His Word and Sacraments. He offers in these quiet, humble means of grace in Word, Baptism, and Supper the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting so that all people might live under Him in His Kingdom. Outward appearances are deceiving. God’s Word is not useless, even when to the world it looks insignificant. God’s reign and rule in Jesus Christ will prevail, even though there are days it looks hopeless. For the day will come when all the nations will be gathered together and will see the glory of the Lord Christ when He comes again. You and I and all believers in Jesus will then enjoy the eternal paradise that God will create for us—a new heaven and a new earth—where we will live with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit under His glorious reign and rule forevermore. Amen