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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Unstoppable Kingdom of God
Text:Mark 4:26-32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 67:1,3                                                                                  

Ps 119:58,60                                                                                                  

Reading – Ezekiel 17:22-24; Mark 4:1-32

Ps 145:1,3,5

Sermon – Mark 4:26-32

Hy 61:1,2

Hy 76:2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, when you open the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Lord Jesus is often speaking in parables. With vivid language and interesting stories, He sets a scene for us, and then from that He draws out some truth, gives a teaching for us to remember. Sometimes his parables are long, and they tell a story in several parts—think of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where lots of things are happening. Sometimes the parables are very short—like the two in our text. But they’re always colourful, because Jesus makes his illustrations from the every-day things of life.

Readers of Scripture enjoy the parables of Christ, probably because everyone loves a good story, and we appreciate having “a visual.” What’s more, the parables don’t seem as confronting as some of the Lord’s other words; they seem a gentler, more subtle way of teaching. But make no mistake: Jesus says that his parables too, will always have an effect on those who listen. These aren’t just stories, but they have a power, to convict, and even condemn.

And as with all of the Word of God, if we want insight into these parables, we need God’s help. Earlier in Mark 4, Jesus says that it’s only his disciples who will understand, while everyone else will be left scratching their heads, “seeing but not perceiving, hearing but not understanding.” So be careful how you hear!

In our chapter we find some of these parables of Jesus. He’s busy teaching the multitudes that keep coming to him. As Mark tells us later, “With many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it” (v 33). And in the two short parables in our text He tells about the kingdom of God. May God give us ears to hear his Word from Mark 4:26-32, on this theme,

Jesus teaches about the mystery and power of God’s Kingdom:

  1. it is like seed scattered on the ground
  2. it is like a small mustard seed


1) it is like seed scattered on the ground: When you first read the parable in verses 26-29, it seems simple—so mundane and ordinary that it’s practically harmless. “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Straightforward enough, right?  But that simplicity is the “trick” of the parable. Something is going on here that we need to pay attention to, and think about carefully, because it’s teaching us about God’s kingdom. So that’s where we begin: the kingdom.

If you look back to Mark 1, this was the theme of Jesus’ preaching from the very start of his ministry: “The time is fulfilled,” He said, “and the kingdom of God is at hand” (1:15). The coming of Jesus marks the beginning of a new day, a new age, when God is going to reign over his obedient people, and the whole world is going to be made subject to God’s power. His kingdom is coming!

But kingdom means conflict, as two sides are locked in battle—today and every day, it’s the dominion of Satan against the kingdom of the LORD. In Mark God’s kingdom is advancing in huge strides, as Jesus casts out demons and He ties up the strong man so that He can plunder him. Yes, in the work of Christ it is evident that God’s kingdom is here and now! But there’s more to come. There isn’t yet a perfect peace. The kingdom of God is moving, but it hasn’t yet arrived in its fullness.

So this is what the kingdom is like: it “is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground” (v 26). At once that verse links us with the previous parable that Jesus told, the Parable of the Sower. There too, a man scatters seed in his field, and that seed grows—or it doesn’t grow. The seed, Jesus explains, is the Word of God, while the soil is the hearts of those who receive it. Some receive it badly, or not at all; others receive it, accept it, and bear fruit.

With the man scattering seed in our parable, the focus has shifted. It’s not on the different kinds of soil, but on the mystery of how that seed grows. For imagine how the farmer has worked all day in the field, casting his seed over the freshly tilled soil. Evening comes, and he is tired. He sleeps, says Jesus, and rises the next day—sleeps again, and rises. Time passes… and the farmer can’t do anything for the seed! Once the planting is done, he lacks all control. Sure, he can fertilize, and cultivate the soil, and pray for rain, but he cannot cause the seed to grow. It’s out of his hands. And it might not look like much is happening.

But the seed is growing. There, beneath the dark cover of soil, in secret and unobserved, there is activity. The seed is sending out and downward its first simple roots; and then, suddenly, green shoots appear above ground, and they keep getting taller, and then they start filling out. As Jesus puts it, “The earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head” (v 28).

The farmer is counting on this, he is expecting it, because this is how it goes every year. It’s why he’s in business: because that seed grows! But if he was asked how it all happens, the farmer couldn’t say: “he himself does not know how” (v 27). A human doesn’t understand the mysteries of growth. He cannot do what the sun, soil and moisture can, as the earth yields it crop.

This is what the kingdom of God is like: it can often grow in secret, and grow at its own pace. And as a prime example, look at Jesus’ ministry. For about a year already, Jesus has been scattering seed. He’s been preaching the Word, and healing the sick. What has been the result? While there have been moments of excitement, and crowds of followers, in general the ministry of Jesus hasn’t met people’s expectations. This coming kingdom hasn’t been about getting rid of the Romans and seizing power in Jerusalem, like everyone wanted. It hasn’t been about mass conversions, and radical changes in society. No, it’s all been a lot quieter, slower. Whatever good things Jesus has said, life has gone on, as usual.

Yet Jesus wants his followers to know that things are happening. It’s hidden from view, so you wonder. In those days when Jesus is being opposed and misunderstood, you can’t really see how God’s kingdom is growing. But it is growing, and harvest time is getting closer.

Perhaps some of the disciples wanted things to develop more quickly. Couldn’t they kick-start the process? Get to Jerusalem sooner? But the followers of Jesus have to imitate that patient farmer. He works, then he sleeps. After scattering the seed, he leaves it to the earth. Like that, the followers of Christ in those day needed to have faith in God. They needed to trust that in his time, God will bring good things from Jesus’ ministry. He will use Jesus to make the kingdom come, according to his perfect will. Leave the growing to God!

That’s a hard lesson for us too. We’re so often about getting outcomes: making this investment of time or money or effort, and achieving this result. If nothing notable happens, and soon, then it’s a failure.

Even when we’re busy with the Word of God, we think about its effects and outcomes. Say you teach the Scriptures to your children, you tell them Bible stories and you show them how to pray, you give them lessons on how to live as a child of God—after a while, you might wonder: Is it growing in them? Will they remember this when they’re fifteen? Or say you bring Scripture on a homevisit, explaining and applying—you drive home thinking: So did it sink in? Why do I feel like I didn’t get through to them? Or say you have a conversation about the gospel with your neighbour; they nod their head the whole time, but you question if they’ve even understood it. Will it grow?

When we do mission work too, this question always comes up: Are they listening? Is it bearing fruit? Is our investment translating into results? We can be frustrated by the slow pace, discouraged by a lack of fruit. We can wonder if the kingdom is getting anywhere in that country, or anywhere among those people. One day the kingdom takes half a step forward, the next day a whole step back.

But Jesus reminds us how helpless we are. The seed develops in God’s time. Remember, we don’t make the kingdom grow—we don’t even understand how it grows. It’s a mystery, where it is God alone who supports and directs and causes the progress of the kingdom. It is God’s seed, and He alone can unlock its life. Think of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:6, when he describes his work as an apostle, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” We’re unable to give new life to someone, unable to work faith in an area of the world, so what can we do? We can be faithful. And we can trust God to give the increase.

With this parable, Jesus exhorts us to be patient. Remember how different God’s timetable is from ours. We have maybe fifty years to work—God has all of eternity. So for a while He might let things run their course without change, even seem to ignore certain corners of his kingdom. But be sure that He still has his eye on every seed that’s been planted. The work of God goes on very quietly at times, but it does go on: He never stops ruling the kingdom, and He’s always moving it forward.

Compare it again to how you don’t see a plant growing in your garden. You can stare at it every day, hour after hour, and you won’t see the growth taking place. Only if you go away and come back after some time, you see the difference. So with the kingdom of God. Slowly, yet surely, the Lord shows his power, in this world, and in his church. Be patient for it, and keep waiting for it!

There’s a mystery to it, we said. “We don’t know how…” Why do some people believe right away, even the first time they hear about Christ, and become zealous to serve him? Or why do some Christians seem to take such a long time to mature and to bear fruit? There’s a mystery to it. Or at what point in his life does a covenant child start believing in the Lord? Or why doesn’t a covenant child believe? What makes many hundreds of people turn to the Lord in one village, while no one believes in the next village? We don’t know these things.

But when God blesses the seed, this happens: “First [there is] the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head” (v 28). And what then? So far the parable is a simple country scene, harmless and non-threatening. All that changes in verse 29, “When the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” The sickle is a sharp blade, held in the hand and swept back and forth to cut down the stalks of grain, so that they can be threshed. After sowing his seed, the farmer has been waiting, watching, and now his crop is ready: “Immediately,” without delay, the man gets to harvesting. The farmer who waits too long will suffer loss, so his work is swift.

“He puts in the sickle”—that’s probably an echo of Joel 3:13. The minor prophet Joel has been speaking about the coming day of the LORD. God will pour out his Spirit on his people, and He will also judge the wicked nations; “Put in the sickle,” Joel says, “for the harvest is ripe.” The harvest there is a symbol for the end of the world, because at that time every person on earth will be collected together. On God’s harvest day, two things will happen: the good grain will be gathered to God, and all the weeds will be thrown into the fire and they will be destroyed.

This is why whenever He talks about the kingdom, Jesus reminds us that it is coming. The kingdom might seem small right now, or it might be slow in growth, but its fullness and its completion are sure. One day the farmer is going to put in the sickle, and he will gather his crop. His blade will find out: Has there been growth? Has there been fruit? Has there been faith?

So the same parable that calls us to patience and humility, also calls us to be prepared. The kingdom of Christ is coming, and we need to be ready for the harvest. How to be ready? Are we receiving the Word of God in faith? Are we striving to bear fruit? And are we growing God’s kingdom through the spread of his Word? Are we scattering seed in the ways that we can—in our homes, in our neighborhoods, among our friends, in this world? Are we praying for God to bless the harvest?

Listen to what James says in his letter, “The farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:7-8). His coming is at hand. So establish your hearts: Are you ready to be harvested?


2) it is like a small mustard seed: The second parable is even shorter. It’s another lesson taken from the world of growing things. Jesus begins with a question to arouse interest: “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it?” (v 30). He wants his listeners to chew on this, to take it home and talk about it: “Do you get what Jesus meant? What do you think is the lesson about the kingdom of God?”

This is what the kingdom is like: “It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade” (vv 31-32).

The key comparison here is to the mustard seed. We all know mustard as the good stuff that comes in yellow bottles, but before it gets there, mustard has to grow on plants or trees. And the mustard tree begins as a very small seed. It’s actually not the smallest seed there is, but in Palestine that’s how it was viewed. It was the proverbial thing to which you’d compare any small object, like Jesus does in Matthew 17:20, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” Such is the kingdom of God, like a mustard seed sown in the ground—so small that it’s practically invisible.

The listener who is blessed with insight might hear this parable and again think of Jesus and his ministry. There were crowds, but his movement seemed so small. Compared to the entire population of the Roman empire, or even compared to all those who were living in Palestine, the kingdom He’s announcing seems miniscule, hopelessly insignificant. Was anything really going to come of this traveling preacher and his motley crew?

We could think the same about Christ’s kingdom today. For instance, we’re just a small church, in a vast country. Or think of how many people there are in the world, yet how many Christians? There are cities today with populations of ten and twenty million, yet in some of those cities are only very few churches where Christ is preached. Or think of the power of evil today: the godless can be so convincing, their message so pervasive, sin so captivating, that you wonder how the gospel will survive. How can the kingdom ever compete? Christ’s people seem very small indeed, and we could despair of what’s going to come of us.

But the mustard seed teaches us. Jesus forbids drawing conclusions about something based only on its modest beginnings. Because that mustard seed, “when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches” (v 32). Even though its beginning was impossibly tiny, a mustard seed grows. Everyone in Palestine knew how that little seed could become something great. After some years, it could be a strong bush, a mustard tree growing up to four meters tall.

That’s what the kingdom of God is like. Deceptively small and weak at times, but filled with great potential—God’s potential. Nobody should look at Jesus in Galilee, surrounded by that local crowd, and say, “How can this be the start of a glorious kingdom?” That’s the human view: short-sighted. Everything has a beginning, and nothing emerges full grown. Jesus’ ministry seems small, but it’s going to increase.

And how it would grow! In two years or so, Jesus would be dead. The movement would seem even smaller and weaker than it is now—like seed ground into powder. Yet by dying, the seed gives life. Jesus dies, He rises from the grave, and then He sends out his disciples to tell everyone the good news. Within forty years, the gospel of salvation through Christ has reached all the centres of the Roman empire, and it has gone to many other places too. And since that time, the chosen ones of God have constantly been gathered through the Word and the Spirit—the kingdom is ever growing.

The kingdom is like a mustard tree, so large that “the birds of the air may nest under its shade” (v 32). That tiny mustard seed can grow, not just into an average bush, but into the kind of tree where many birds will find a spot to nest. They say that birds were fond of the little black seeds of the mustard tree, so it was common to see a cloud of birds flocking around them. The tree has become a refuge and sanctuary.

The prophet Ezekiel once used that image of a tree to describe the kingdom of God. He said that the people of Israel were like a cedar. For a long time it had grown and thrived, until they sinned, and it was chopped to only a small remnant—just a little twig of what once was. But though they were so small, and would become smaller yet, God didn’t give up on his people. The LORD promises, “I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and plant it on a high and prominent mountain” (17:22).

Then God will again cause his people to grow, “And it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell” (17:23). Did you hear that? God says that his people will again thrive and be fruitful. It won’t be their own doing, but the work of God among them, as He redeems sinners through Jesus his Son.

And the results of God’s saving work will be a place of refuge for all nations. The small beginnings of Jesus’ ministry in Palestine are the start of God’s kingdom, a kingdom which will offer shade to the entire world. Like birds flocking to a fruitful tree, all peoples and tribes will be brought under the glorious rule of Christ.

Beloved, be encouraged by Jesus’ words about his kingdom. We’re so prone to worry and despair. When we watch world events, or when we notice what is happening to society, or when we hear about religious persecution, we wonder what’s in store. The kingdom seems so small. The Bible seems so out of date, the church so out of favour. Yet Christ tells us not to worry. Remember who God is, and what He’s promised. With God’s blessing, what starts small will end up as great. Don’t despise the day of small beginnings, for God can bring about amazing things!

Just think of how powerful growth can be. When something is alive, it has a vitality, a strength that cannot be supressed. Consider a tree, growing silently, growing steadily. It seems so dull, so passive, but think of how those tree roots can crack a concrete sidewalk. The roots force up the heavy, solid weight, and can snap it. Like that, nothing on earth can stop the growth that comes from God. Despite this world’s rebellion, despite the church’s disobedience, God’s work goes on. He presses forward until the day of completion, when the kingdoms of the world will be the kingdom of God and of his Christ!

Until then, we have work to do. Both these parables teach us that when the seed is sown, things will happen. We don’t give the growth, but we do plant, and we do water. So let the seed be sown! May the victory of Christ over Satan be preached to all the world. May the Word of Christ be shared widely, with everyone God has brought into our life. May we pray often for the advance of Jesus’ kingdom, here and everywhere. And may we find our shelter in the shade of Christ!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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