Mark 4:26-29, the parable of the growing seed: “He also said, 'This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 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 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”.
In the parable of the growing seed Jesus teaches when it comes to God's Kingdom the natural eye doesn't see all that is going on; He teaches there is a hidden aspect to true growth in God's Kingdom and true growth within the church, a hidden sphere where God is at work in ways we are not aware of. One commentator says, “just as there are underground movements and invisible organisations working below the surface in this world, so it is with the Kingdom of God”. The 18th century hymn writer William Cowper picked up on this hidden, mysterious work of God in many of the hymns he wrote, for example in one he wrote of “God moving in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform”. Cowper was simply acknowledging what Jesus teaches in the parable, that God often works, moves and builds in ways the natural eye of man can't always perceive.
At the time when Jesus lived there was a common belief that when the Messiah came He would establish God's Kingdom in an instant, that God's Kingdom would come with immediate effect and that Roman occupation in Israel would end and the Messiah would claim His throne and rule the nations with an iron rod. In other words, people thought the growth of God's Kingdom would be quick, immediate, extra-ordinary. To their disappointment this was not the way Jesus did things, which in turn led to many wondering whether or not He really was the Messiah. It seemed that Jesus wasn't fulfilling Messianic expectations; there was no sign of the quick, immediate victory they hoped and believed would come.
Many of God's people today have similar expectations as God's people back then, in that we too want quick and instant Kingdom growth and quick-fix Kingdom solutions. We want this both in our church life and in our own personal life.
The parable of the growing seed is a reminder to us that often this isn't how God works. Rather, He works in the same way a seed works when it is sown in the ground.
I am not an expert gardener but I know that when it comes to a seed doing what it is meant to do there is a three stage process that takes place:
there is an initial sowing of the seed – where it is planted;
there is a lapse of time where the seed needs to be left to do it's own work under ground, which the human eye cannot see;
after a period of time the seed brings forth fruit.
Jesus says “this is what God's Kingdom is like”. Yes, there will eventually be a harvest. However, in the meantime much of the growth of God's Kingdom is largely below surface. One commentator puts it, “there is a hidden energy at work below the surface”.
This hidden energy below surface is brought out in the parable, where we are told that “night & day, whether the sower sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though the sower does not know how”. The hidden energy and mysterious work below the surface is again highlighted in v28, “all by itself the soil produces corn – first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear”.
To the eyes of many it appeared nothing was happening, that the seed planted some time before was not having any effect – yet all the while it was working to produce a harvest for God.
What an encouragement the parable of the growing seed is for us, for in it we are reminded that though there are times we may not see much evidence of God's Kingdom in our lives, if we have believed and received the message of God's Kingdom, that is, if we have believed and received Jesus, the Kingdom's King, then we belong to a movement and a Kingdom that is growing which one day will produce a harvest!
If like me there will be times when you struggle to believe this, because all you see are tiny buds of growth. In fact, sometimes I struggle to see any growth. I can look at my Christian life and the picture is not that impressive; I don't seem to be moving from one degree of glory to the next.
The parable of the growing seed calls for patience, patience with ourselves and with God, who is working in us. The parable calls us to keep our eye not so much on the here and now, but on the harvest that one day will come. Someone says “the tiny signs of growth we see in our lives make us doubt whether there is any growth at all. This is not quite what our enthusiasm at first expected, but we must not expect immediate and fully mature results all at once”.
Perhaps a word in season for some who feel guilt because they do not see the progress they think should be there.