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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:A pair of parables to picture the kingdom of God
Text:Mark 4:26-34 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Kingdom of God

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 97:1,2,5,6
Psalm 6:1,2
Psalm 78:1,2
Hymn 47:3
Psalm 65:1 (after offertory)
Augment Hymn 25 or Psalm 79:5

Reading: 1 Corinthians 3
Text: Mark 4:26-34

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

Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,


Most of the time, as we consider a Bible text in a sermon, we begin with the first verse and then work our way to the last verse.  That way of doing things usually works well.  However, today we’re going to depart from that somewhat.  We’re looking at a couple of parables about the kingdom of God and here it makes sense to begin with the last two verses of our text. 


In verse 33, Mark tells us that Christ spoke many similar parables to them, as much as they could understand.  There is enigma or mystery in the parables, but these words are also sort of enigmatic.  Who are those to whom Jesus was speaking?  From the next verse which tells us that he explained everything to his disciples, from that verse we know that it can’t just be the disciples.  In other words, Jesus spoke these parables to the crowds.  And these were crowds of Jewish people, the people of God’s covenant.


But then Mark editorializes further and says that Jesus spoke these parables, “as much as they could understand.”  That’s translated better as “as much as they could hear.”  That’s what you’ll find in other translations such as the RSV, ESV, NASB and NKJV.  Earlier in chapter 4 we find that the parables were not preached by Christ so that everyone could have a better understanding.  In fact, according to Jesus the primary purpose of parables was to leave unbelieving covenant members under the judgment of God.  So when Mark says here that Christ preached the Word as “much as they could hear,” we have to understand those words in that context.  What it means is that they heard the preaching of Christ whenever they had the opportunity.  As much as they could hear, they heard him – his words went into their ears.  But that doesn’t mean that his words went into their hearts and minds, it doesn’t mean that they believed or understood! 


That’s confirmed by the next verse which tells us that when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.  Now if they had understood the parables along with all the other people, why did Jesus have to explain it to them?  You see, it only makes sense to understand that Christ spoke in parables and people listened, but they didn’t really get it.  Even his disciples needed an explanation. 


Verse 34 also tells us that he didn’t say anything without a parable.  What that means is simply that Christ was regularly preaching with parables.  If we look ahead elsewhere in Mark we do see Christ speaking to the crowds without using parables.  All this tells us is that this was his usual, typical manner of preaching.   And this kind of preaching fit with where his ministry was going at this moment.  The animosity between Christ and the Jewish leaders was building.  It was becoming increasingly clear that Jesus did not meet the expectations the people had for a Messiah.  His parables continue to confound and confuse people, and this paves the way for his suffering and death. 


Let’s now consider two of those parables, a pair of parables which pictures the kingdom of God.  Now if I were in your shoes sitting in the pew, I’d probably be thinking:  what does the kingdom of God have to do with us, with me?  “Kingdom of God” sounds rather high and lofty, rather esoteric, disconnected from our daily lives.  What does the kingdom of God have to do with the problems I’m facing in my life (whatever those may be)?    That’s a fair question that people might ask when they hear that these parables are about the kingdom of God. 


So, let’s begin by defining the kingdom of God.  Once we do that, we can get into Jesus’ parables and then see how the kingdom of God is very much connected to our daily lives, not only to the problems and challenges we face, but also to the blessings we receive.  So, what is the kingdom of God?  This is not the first time this expression occurs in Mark’s gospel.  Back in chapter 1, Jesus went into Galilee preaching that the kingdom of God had come near.  He was speaking about the rule or the reign of God.  It involves God saving a people for himself, it involves God gathering those people into his church and it also involves a redeemed creation.  It is the reign of God about to break into the world through the person and work of Christ.  The Lord Jesus said that this was good news which people had to believe.  Then earlier in chapter 4, he told his disciples that the secret or mystery of the kingdom of God had been given to them.  The kingdom of God is something that turns human expectations and understandings upside down.  The rule or reign of God comes in paradoxes, in things that seem to be totally absurd and inconsistent when considered from a worldly, earthly, this fleshly point of view.  We can say that the kingdom of God has many sides and angles, but at its root it’s about God as king and about people as his subjects, and how the two relate.


This is what we need to keep in mind when we come to verse 26 and the Lord Jesus begins his first parable to picture the kingdom of God.  He says that it’s like a man scattering seed on the ground.  Right away our thoughts are drawn to the Parable of the Sower earlier in chapter 4.  There too a man was sowing seed on the ground.  The seed was the Word of God and here too we don’t have any reason to see it as being something different.  The seed is the Word preached.


Nights and days go by.  The man follows his usual routine.  And as the time goes by, the seed sprouts and grows.  But the man has no idea how it happens.  He was just carrying out his daily routine and the crop grows.  The man has nothing to do with it – the growth is a mystery. 


Verse 28 develops this further:  all by itself (literally, “automatically”) the soil produces grain.  First the stalks pop up, then the heads appear, then finally the full grown plant with the full amount of grain in the head.  There is a surprising amount of power in the combination of the soil and the seed! 


Then in verse 29 we find the climax of the parable.  When the grain is ripe, the farmer goes out with his sickle – a curved, hand-held agricultural tool for harvesting grain.  He cuts the grain because the harvest time has come.  Harvest time means the waiting is over and the time for joy, celebration and thankfulness has arrived! 


Now what does this parable tell us about the kingdom of God?  The Parable of the Sower and then also the passage about the lamp that we looked at last week – those passages put all the emphasis on human responsibility.  There was a call to be the good soil.  There was a call to examine what the light of the Word exposes in our hearts.  But here the emphasis is on what God does, on divine sovereignty. 


Yes, a man scatters the seed.  But how does that seed grow?  Paul answers that very question in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”  When it comes to the kingdom of God, when it comes to bringing people to salvation in Christ, to belonging to his church, and all the other things included with that, ultimately only God can do it.  We might think that it falls in our hands to change other people, but only God makes the seed grow, only God is in control of his kingdom. 


And when God does make that seed grow, there is mystery.  We don’t know how it happens.  Here we can think of what Christ says in John 3:8.  After telling Nicodemus that he must be born again, Christ says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  God’s kingdom work is inscrutable, unfathomable.  You cannot bottle it up with a formula or some kind of technique or program.  God does his own work in his own way and it’s beyond man to understand it, let alone for man to manipulate God.


The seed grows and its growth surprises us.  When the seed finds good soil, it slowly and imperceptibly grows and develops.  If you’re watching carefully, second by second, minute by minute, it happens slowly.  But if you’ve just carried on with your daily business, eventually you look and lo and behold so much has changed.  You’ve had that with your family, I’m sure.  You have family in Alberta or Ontario or wherever else and they come and visit and they can’t believe how much your kids have grown since they last saw them.  Their growth doesn’t take you by surprise because you’ve been with them all that time.  But there is surprising growth and development and it’s the same way with the kingdom of God in people’s lives.


And some day the harvest is going to come.  The day is coming when Christ will return.  That day will be a surprise for everyone but God the Father.  He will harvest all the grain that’s been growing in his field.  Here too the emphasis is on what God does.  The grain doesn’t harvest itself.  The soil has nothing to do with bringing in the harvest.  It’s something that God does.  It’s something that Christ will do. 


Perhaps by now you can begin to sense how this parable about the kingdom of God connects with your daily life.  For one thing, God is God.  He is sovereignly in control of everything that happens.  A while back, a sociologist studied the religious beliefs of American teenagers.  He found that nearly every American teenager believes basically the same thing about God.  It didn’t matter if they were Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or Christian.  It didn’t matter what church they went to or even if they went to church.  According to this study nearly every American teenager believes in moralistic, therapeutic deism.  Moralistic – they believe that religion exists to give us rules to live by.  Therapeutic – religion provides therapy for when you have problems.  Deism – God is like a clockmaker, he wound up the world and lets it run, but is not really involved with it.  However, God is like a spiritual 911, if you need him, you can call and he’ll come running to help you with whatever emergency you’re facing.  Now this study was about teenagers, but it seems pretty likely that it applies equally to adults, and then probably also to Canadians.  What about you?  Do you believe the good news that God is King?  Do you believe that God is involved with every detail of your life, down to the very hairs of your head?   Do you believe that God has a hand of sovereign power and a heart of Fatherly love?


Believing that, let’s take it one step further in the direction this parable goes.  God is sovereign in his kingdom.  You’re in that kingdom, but there are also others.  God has sown his seed all over the covenant community.  He uses people to spread that seed, especially through the preaching of the Word.  The growth that results is entirely God’s work.  It is the kingdom of God.  When we face trials or challenges, we need to remind ourselves of that fact.  God is king, we are not.  When you’re dealing with a family member whose sin makes life difficult, you can’t make the seed sown produce a crop.  Pray to God who can.  When you’re faced with the trials of poor health, you can’t make yourself believe more that God is not only your King, but also a loving Father.  Pray to God who can.  We are helpless in so many ways, but God is sovereign and powerful to cause growth and development in his kingdom whether that’s with you or someone else!


Then also consider that if there’s something burdening you right now, or when something will burden you this week or next, we have the promise of future glory.   The harvest of our Lord Jesus is coming.  Brothers and sisters, that’s something for us to look forward to.  Here on this earth the kingdom of God is breaking in, but it’s not fully here.  There is an “already…but not yet” aspect to the kingdom.  That’s part of the reason why at this moment there is suffering for those who acknowledge God as King.  That “already…but not yet” is part of the reason why there are trials and difficulties in our lives.  But the harvest day is coming and that will signal the full arrival of God’s kingdom in all its glorious splendour.  It will signal that God’s kingdom is totally here with all its blessings.    Revelation 21:4 tells us what we can look forward to, “God will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  We suffer here, we endure trials here, but when the harvest comes, there will be relief, there will be glory for all the subjects of God the King. 


Then the Lord Jesus tells us the parable of the mustard seed, another parable about the kingdom of God.  Jesus reminds us that mustard seeds are tiny.  So, when he begins by comparing the kingdom of God to a mustard seed – that must have sounded irreverent or even blasphemous to his first listeners.  “God is great and mighty – there is no God like our God – and then you compare his kingdom to a mustard seed?  Sure, Jesus.  This is extreme, way over the top.”


But he doesn’t stop there.  The kingdom of God is not a mustard seed that stays in your jar of grainy, thick Dijon mustard.  Rather it is a mustard seed that gets planted in the garden and as it grows it becomes big, much bigger in fact than the other plants in the garden.  Some species of mustard can grow up to 10 or 15 feet and they develop branches on which birds can perch and even make nests. 


The meaning of the parable is simple and straight-forward:  the kingdom of God starts off small, it has an insignificant beginning, but it eventually becomes something large and impressive.  Not only that, it also becomes something which provides a safe and nurturing environment – that’s why the birds are mentioned.


In the days of the Lord Jesus, the kingdom of God was breaking in through his person and work.  This didn’t take place in the big cities of the Roman empire, but in Palestine.  The Promised Land was a sort of economic and political crossroads; it was an important place to occupy.  But it was not a major social and cultural center.  And Galilee, where Jesus began his ministry and where he is at this point, was definitely the backwater of Palestine.  Things started off small.


However, as time rolled on, the kingdom of God as represented in the person and work of Christ and the preaching of Christ, that grew and expanded throughout the world, not only the Roman world, but also the global world.  The mustard seed has grown and it is continuing to grow!  And wherever the gospel is preached, the kingdom of God breaks in – at first it appears small and insignificant, but gradually, slowly, usually imperceptibly, it grows. 


And as the kingdom of God breaks in, safety and nurture are provided for the citizens.  Let’s parse that out.  What is this “safety and nurture” that people find in the kingdom of God?  In the Old Testament we can find this worked out in a number of places.   Psalm 27 is just one example.  David was suffering and experiencing some kind of hardship.  But yet he confesses, “The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?”  God is David’s safe place.  God will set him high upon a rock so that his enemies cannot touch him.  When we see God as our King, when we look to him in faith, we can be sure that he will protect us and do good for us.  Listen to David’s confession at the end of Psalm 27:  “I am still confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.  Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”  Notice how he says that he is confident that he will see God’s goodness in the land of the living.  Even in this life, he will see that God is a good king who provides safety and nurture for his people!  And so will you. 


In the New Testament, the classic passage where this is worked out is Romans 8:28-39.  Paul reminds us that God works for the good of those who love him.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  Because we have Jesus Christ as our Saviour, we can be assured of safety and nurture in God’s kingdom!  “Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  And then we’re comforted to know that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Absolutely nothing!  Even if we were to face trouble or hardship or persecution, we can know that God cares for us in a way that no one else can or will.  In the kingdom of our Father, we are truly safe.


Now how can we further take this knowledge of what the kingdom of God is like into our lives?  In the first place, it gives us perspective.  It gives us the big picture of what’s happening around us.  The kingdom doesn’t begin with power and glory, pomp and circumstance.  It starts as a mustard seed, tiny and insignificant.  But it grows into something large with the passage of time.  In other words, never despise the day of small things.  Zechariah 4:6, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”  Where the Spirit works the kingdom will come and grow, but in God’s time and in God’s way.


Second, we must learn to rest in God and his ways.  It is his kingdom.  He sees fit to begin and work in ways that are easily despised even by those considered religious.    Israel expected rockets glaring and fireworks exploding, they expected spectacle from the Messiah when he would come.  To them and to us God says, “Rest in me and trust my ways.”  This is most explicitly worked out in Isaiah 55:8-11:  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.  As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth:  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”  The Word is sufficient – let’s learn to rest with that.   


Loved ones, the kingdom of God touches your life today.  As you go into this new week, do so with the realization that God is your King.  The King loves you and rules your life in all its details, even to the most mundane things.  As we continue to look to Christ in faith, we can be confident that we’re a part of this growing kingdom.  We can be comforted knowing that we have safety and nurture in this kingdom.  We can look forward to the day when the kingdom comes in all its fullness. 


Let us pray:


LORD God, our King and Father,


We thank and praise you for your hand of power and your heart of love.  We thank you that we know you as our King and as our Father.  There is no other like you, there is no other to whom we can turn.  You have always been the God of your people, a faithful, loving, sovereign God.  Teach us more and more to understand your kingdom.  Lead us with your Holy Spirit to be good citizens of your kingdom.  Help us to trust your sovereign power in our lives and in the lives of others.  With your Spirit, please give us more grace so that we see the big picture, that we never despise the day of small things.  Please help us to rest in you and your ways at all times.  Help us with all this until the fullness of your kingdom comes with the return of Christ our Saviour.  Please make that day come quickly.  LORD God, you are our helper.  Of ourselves, we are helpless.  Have mercy on us your humble servants.  We pray in the name of Christ our Savior, AMEN.                                                    


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

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