THE PARABLE OF GROWING SEED (Mark 4:21-34)

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THE PARABLE OF GROWING SEED

Mark 4:21-34
Key Verse: 4:27,28a 

Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain-first the stalk, then the kernel, then the full kernel in the head”

For the last several weeks we had special messages to cope with this pandemic. Now we are going back to Mark’s gospel study. Last time we studied Mark’s gospel we studied about the parable of the sower. Jesus talked about four kinds of heart soil. Today’s passage is the continuation of the parable. This passage contains 3 parables about the kingdom of God and each parable shows a different aspect of it.  

Look at verse 21. He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? We use electric light to brighten our rooms. However, the people of Israel at the time of Jesus used lamps to brighten their rooms. These lamps were mainly made of clay and had an oval shape. The lamps were lit using olive oil and a linen wick. Then they put the lamp on a lampstand to illuminate the room. These days power outages have been very rare in College Park Woods. But in the past, there were frequent power outages. When the electricity was gone, people used candle lights to brighten their rooms. I remember once when there was a power outage, I lit candle lights and put them on the tables in my bed room, dining room, living room and on the toilet sinks in the bath rooms. Once I put a big mirror next to a candle light to make it twice brighter. I don’t know if it made twice brighter or not. The people of Israel did similar things. They lit a lamp and hung it from the ceiling or placed in a niche in the wall or put on a stand made of earthenware or wood. The reason they put their lamps on these places was to brighten more spaces. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl or a bed. If anyone does that, he kills the purpose of a lamp. 

Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus says in John 8:12, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John chapter 1:4 and 5 also read “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” People live in many kinds of spiritual darkness. They live in the darkness of sin and suffer from guilt and shame and the fear of God’s judgement. Those who live under the power of death don’t know the meaning and purpose and hope for their lives. Also, the fear of death can cause people to live in darkness. During this pandemic, tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs and struggle to survive financially. On top of that they are struggling to survive the virus. They have to fight against these two enemies that threaten to destroy their lives. Even if we are not infected by the virus and have a job we don’t know when this situation will end and when the vaccines and cures will be available to the public and whether we can survive or not while waiting. The fear of death can grip people’s hearts and paralyze them. The power of this darkness is so strong that no one can easily overcome it. But Jesus is the light of the world. He overcame all this darkness through his death and resurrection. Through his death and resurrection Jesus gave us eternal life and a hope in the kingdom of God. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” This word of Jesus assures us that when we believe in Jesus we will live even if we die and when we live and believe in him, we will never die. When we believe this the power of darkness flees away. Jesus also says “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in me. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am”.  Jesus comforts us not to be troubled but to believe in God and him. He promises to take us to be with him so that we may be where he is, our Father’s house. The word of Jesus gives us hope, courage and strength to overcome this trouble-filled life. We learned through last week’s message that God is refining our faith through many trials. Through this pandemic God is teaching us how fragile and shaky our hopes in this world are and we can’t put our hope in them. God is teaching us that our true and living hope is our inheritance kept in heaven for us. 

We have been given this Jesus who is the light of the world. We must not hide him and his word but reveal him to the world so that people who live in darkness may come to the light of Jesus and accept him. During this lock down period we can’t go to campus and meet students but we can still study the Bible with our students through Zoom or Skype or other social media. We can invite our family members and colleagues to our Sunday worship service so that they can hear the word of Jesus and accept him and receive salvation. Missionary Timothy shared the word of God he received through our Sunday worship service with his mother and sister in Korea through Zoom. During this pandemic people are more receptive to hear the gospel. May God help us to share the good news of Jesus and lead them to the light of Jesus. 

Look at verse 22. “For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.” This means there is no secret in this world. Whatever people do in secret will eventually be made known. We can interpret this verse in connection with many parables Jesus spoke. No one can understand the meanings of these parables unless Jesus explains to them. The meanings of these parables are hidden. But Jesus’ intention in speaking these parables is not to hide the meanings permanently but to reveal them so that people may understand and accept and possess the kingdom of God. 

What is the key to understand the secret of the kingdom of God? Look at verses 23 and 24a. “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.” “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued.” First, people should have ears to hear. This means that people should give their full focus and attention when they hear the word of Jesus. Second, they should consider carefully what they hear. After hearing Jesus’ word, we should think about it to understand instead of hearing once and forgetting. This takes a lot of effort on our side. But if we do that God will help us to understand the meaning of the parables which are the secrets of the kingdom of God.  

Verse 24b reads, “With the measure you use it will be measured to you and even more.” All of us can perceive and think and understand. God has given us these abilities to learn new things. But the question is how much we use these abilities to learn and understand the word of Jesus. We will perceive and understand in proportion to our effort to think and understand. 

Look at verse 25. “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”  It is true that the more we work the more experience we get. But if we stop working, we forget and lose our knowledge and skills we learned through our job. It is same with our talents. The more we use our talents the more they are developed. But if we don’t use our talents, we lose them. The word of Jesus is same. Those who listen to Jesus’ word and consider it carefully will understand more and be richly blessed spiritually. But those who don’t listen they will forget even what they learned and nothing will be left for them. 

Look at verse 26. He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.” In this parable Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a growing seed. I want to mention three things in this parable. 

First, the kingdom of God begins with teaching the word of God. Some people think that the kingdom of God will come all at once. But this parable teaches us that the kingdom of God begins when a man teaches the word of God. When the word of God is planted in a person’s heart the kingdom of God will sprout and grow. When a person hears the word, he or she can accept God and Jesus, receive salvation, eternal life and find hope in the kingdom of God. Therefore, it is very important to sow the seed of God’s word. God uses his servants who spread the word of God to save people and bring them to his kingdom. 

Second, the seed grows by itself. Let’s read verses 27 and 28a to the word ‘grain’. “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain…” A few years ago, I experienced the power of a seed by growing some vegetables. I bought some vegetable seeds and planted them around my house. The seeds sprouted and grew and produced an abundant harvest. Then I understood why Jesus compared the word of God to a seed. After experiencing the power of a seed, I was encouraged to sow the seed of God’s word on campus. I also experienced the power of the soil to produce abundant harvest. I learned the importance of providing good soil for vegetables to grow. Last year I collected some seeds from the vegetables I harvested and planted them a few weeks ago and most of the seeds sprouted. It is amazing to see how new plants come out of old seeds and soil makes the plants grow and produce abundant harvest. I don’t know how a seed sprouts and grows. I haven’t researched this process. After sowing the seed all I have done is to water them and leave them outside under the sun and the plants grow. I have no doubt that these baby plants will grow and produce abundant harvest of squashes and hot peppers. 

In this parable after scattering seed the farmer goes home and resumes his daily routine. He sleeps and gets up and does other works. He doesn’t worry that the seed he scattered may not sprout and grow. The farmer has complete faith that the seed will sprout and grow and produce an abundant harvest. Similarly, when the word of God is sown in a person’s heart it will save and change and transform the person. The word of God has power to save and change people’s lives. Like the seed has life in it and the potential to bring a great harvest the word of God contains God’s life which has life-giving power. We must believe this power of God’s word and spread it believing that it will sprout and grow and produce abundant harvest. Once Martin Luther said, “What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone … I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. The Word did everything.” This is right attitude of God’s servant who teaches and preaches God’s word. Our job is to plant God’s word diligently and trust that it will sprout and grow and produce abundant harvest. We must remember that it is not us who grows our students and children but God. Of course, we should pray for them and teach them God’s word. When we have faith that the word of God works by itself, we don’t have to become anxious wondering whether the word of God we teach grows in our students or not. Rather, we can go home and sleep comfortably during the night. 

In 1912, William Leslie went to live and minister in a remote corner of Congo in Africa as a medical missionary. For 17 years, he labored. He and his wife endured a hurricane which struck the night before one of their children was born; they faced charging buffaloes and attacks of ants. They lived among cannibals. But their trips to the surrounding villages had little success. Finally, due to the opposition from some tribal leaders, they were forced to leave the mission field. They were discouraged and believed that their work was a failure. Dr. Leslie died nine years later after his return. This story seems so sad and tragic! But almost 100 years later, in 2010, a mission team visited the same jungles Dr. Leslie had served. To their surprise, they found 8 villages with thriving churches. In one village, they found a 1,000-seat stone church filled with people. More than that, the tribal people began a church planting movement in the surrounding villages. One man scattered the seed of God’s word and bore abundant fruit, though he didn’t see it in his lifetime. His story reminds us of a Bible verse that says, “Give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Where the seed of God’s word is scattered, there the kingdom of God grows. We may not see the fruit of our labors in our life time but when the word of God is planted, the kingdom of God will sprout and grow and produce abundant harvest. 

Third, the seed grows step by step. Let’s look at verses 28b and 29 starting the word ‘first’. “…first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come”. When we look at how babies walk, they go through several stages of walking. First, they crawl. Then they stand holding on something. Then they begin to walk slowly falling down. Then they walk comfortably and later run. Likewise, all plants have their stages of growth including wheat plants. First, stalks come out, then the heads, then the full kernels in the head and each head contains about 50 kernels. In this growing process there is no exception. There is no jumping from the first stage to the last stage. This is the truth and principle of nature. Likewise, there are stages of spiritual growth and each stage takes time. Therefore, we need patience in growing our students and children as Jesus’ disciples. If we become impatient the result won’t be good. 

Look at verses 31 and 32. “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade”. Most vegetable seeds are very small but once they are planted, they grow big and produce abundant harvest. Last year this tiny hot pepper plants grew up to my height. The squash plants grew and produced huge squashes of a cannon shell size. Among many seeds, the mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds. Yet when planted it grows into a big tree, reaching as tall as 20 feet and some 30 feet tall. 30 feet is 9 meters. In order to understand how high 9 meters are here is a picture. And here is a picture of a real mustard tree. The seed is very tiny. Yet when planted it exponentially grows and becomes a huge tree that that birds can build their nests and live in it. This parable of the mustard seed shows how the kingdom of God starts and grows. The kingdom of God starts very small. It is almost invisible and hard to see. But once it grows it expands exponentially and reaches out many people. When the kingdom of God grows in a person’s heart many other weary souls come and find rest and salvation. I see that the kingdom of God grows in many people’s hearts. Through them other people have been led to Christ and they find rest and salvation and joy of God’s kingdom. 

During this pandemic Stacey and her family had financial hardship. But despite the difficulty she has attended our early morning prayer meetings and listened to the word of God. I see that her faith is growing through the word of God and so is the kingdom of God in her heart. 

Pastor Phillip experienced God’s mighty power in solving his life problem. Then he went to China as a missionary and met his wife there. They lived in an apartment at the beginning of their mission life. He and his wife suffered a lot from the cold winter weather. But they endured and served many students who came to their apartment to study the Bible and attend Sunday worship service. Through their Bible teaching and serving many students accepted Jesus as their Savior and grew as Jesus’ disciples. Their number grew and by the time they left the country there were almost 20 growing disciples. Their lives show how the kingdom of God starts small but grows big like a mustard seed.   

In 1885, Horace Grant Underwood went to Korea as an American missionary. At that time, Korea was a spiritual barren land. He said in his prayer, “Lord, nothing is visible at this moment. Lord, you have planted us on this barren and poor land. Only stubbornly stained darkness can be seen. Only Korean people chained with poverty and superstition can be seen. Although this land is filled with doubt of suspicion, contempt, and disdain, we believe that in the near future this land will become a land of blessing.” As he prayed, the seed sown in the barren land grew and grew until the country became a missionary sending nation for all over the world. Having one one-to-one Bible studies with a student seems very small and insignificant. But when the word of God is planted in one person’s heart, the kingdom of God can grow. Through this parable we can see how powerfully the kingdom of God can grow. 

I pray that we may have faith in the power of God’s word and diligently plant so that the kingdom of God can grow. 

Let’s pray.