Wednesday Preverb – 12June2024



Psalm 20:1-9; 1 Samuel 15:34–16:13; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 11-13, 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

The theme this week is kingdom growth. 

In our call to worship psalm, there is assurance that the Lord will help and support his anointed to be victorious.  The Old Testament reading from 1 Samuel provides the suspenseful account of David being anointed as king of Israel by Samuel.  Our reading from 2 Corinthians reads with a note of confidence on account of faith in Christ, who makes all things new.

The Gospel text in Mark provides two parables from Jesus that explore the growth of the kingdom of God using the sowing of two different seeds.




Today we have a couple of parables to ponder. And both parables use the image of seeds. Before we visit these two parables, we should have a word about parables themselves. And especially, how Jesus used parables.

First, parables in the hand of Jesus were not simplistic little illustrations to drive home a teaching point. In fact, we see that many did not understand what Jesus was saying and even his disciples often needed further explanation.

Second, Jesus’ parables required a lot from his hearers. Jesus’ parables were enigmatic stories and pictures which demanded to be sorted out. Jesus wasn’t reinforcing what everyone already understood, he was challenging the way his hearers typically thought about the topic he was discussing. In the case of our two parables at hand, the topic is the kingdom of God. Jesus is going to use two parables involving seeds to reorient how people understand not only God’s kingdom, but God himself.

Third, those who did hear and grow to understand Jesus’ parables did so because they were following Jesus. Crowds may appear to hear the parables, but only those who hung around Jesus and inquired further would get an interpretation. His disciples would understand the parables because Jesus himself would give them further understanding. That will be the case today as we hear the two parables in our lectionary. If we listen to the parables assuming we already know what they mean, we too, like the crowds, may walk away with little more understanding than we came with. However, if we are primarily coming to hear Jesus speak to us, coming with open hands and humble hearts, we can trust that Jesus will reveal more to us since we have “ears to hear.”

Followers of Jesus are not afraid of repentance. They know the one who speaks to them is for them, full of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. And they know that Jesus wants us to come to know him and his Father better. So we listen with attentive ears, knowing the one who is speaking to us wants us to be willing to let go of old, preconceived, and wrong-headed thoughts and ways of thinking.

Fourth, we should also remember that parables are in one way or another about Jesus. Even if the subject matter is about the kingdom of God, as our parables are today, it cannot be separated from who Jesus is. That is how we will approach the parables today, seeking to answer the question, who is Jesus and who are we in him.

Perhaps we should also add one final thought about parables. Considering the subject matter, and that they help us to see more fully who Jesus is and who we are in him, we should temper our expectations of understanding. We do not expect to hear a parable and then immediately be granted mastery of what Jesus was saying. Parables can continue to help us see a little more each time around. This is why we may have many different interpretations of parables. Some may be better than others, but we shouldn’t expect to ever fully understand Jesus’ parables. They call us into a deeper relationship with Jesus, listening to him again and again, trusting that by his Spirit, he is opening our ears, little by little, or a lot at times, to know him and grow in our trust in him and his Father. So, don’t expect this sermon to be the final word on these two parables. We will do our best to be faithful to how Mark uses the parables. But we will also hold loosely to any interpretation that may need further filling out later. Parables are a journey. So, let’s take a couple of steps into that journey with the two parables we have before us.



The Growing of the Kingdom

Mark 4:26-34

26 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should [a]scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

30 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? 31 It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; 32 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.”

Jesus’ Use of Parables

33 And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. 34 But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.



Today we have a couple of parables to ponder.  And both parables use the image of seeds.


The first parable we encounter is Mark’s first parable about the kingdom of God and it is a parable only found in Mark.  That sets it apart in many ways.  But, as we should come to expect, the point of this parable is quite elusive.  We do not know if we should focus on the sower, the process of the seed’s growth, or on the harvest.  The focus we choose can take us in many different directions.

For our discussion we will focus on the sower as a way forward in the parable, without leaving the process or the harvest out.  This will at least keep our focus on a “who” rather than a process or event.  That seems to be a safe approach considering we want the parable to help us discover a little more of who Jesus is. Approaching any scripture with the “who” question in mind is always the surest and most fruitful way forward.

Here is how Mark introduces the first parable:

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. (Mark 4:26 ESV)

The most important thing to note about the parable is the one who is telling it.  It’s no small thing that it is Jesus who is telling us this parable and not some random person.  We can trust that Jesus is giving this parable for our good.  Just because it is difficult to understand, or because it contains some ambiguous images, doesn’t mean that Jesus is trying to trick us or conceal something that he’d rather not share.  Jesus can be trusted, and on that ground, we can engage in the hard work of hearing and thinking through his words.

For starters, Jesus is clear on the subject of the parable, namely, “the kingdom of God.”  So, that at least gives us some parameters, although the kingdom of God can mean many different things to different people.  And that is why Jesus must give us a parable.  We all come to it with some idea of what the kingdom of God is.  And it seems Jesus needs to invite us into rethinking our concepts of his kingdom.  What’s at stake is not just how we think of the kingdom, but how we think of God, whose kingdom it is.  We cannot separate the two.  If we are going to belong to this kingdom, we will need to know the one whose kingdom it is, as he is the one we will belong to.

Since we will put our focus on the sower, we will want to ask the question, “Who is this ‘man’ who scatter’s seed on the ground?”  And in case we need the reminder, this parable is set up with an “as if” statement.  So, we are not to read it too literally.  We know that we are using creaturely terms and images, in this case agricultural ones, to convey something deeper.  However, that doesn’t rule out that the “man” is an actual man.  In fact, one way forward in understanding the parable is to see this “man” as none other than Jesus himself.  But Jesus is more than just a man.  He is the God-man.  He is the Son of God who has assumed our human nature in the person of Jesus.

We must also take note that this man is doing something.  He is sowing “seed on the ground.”  The image of “seed” is a rich one conjuring up the messianic “seed” promised in Genesis to Adam and Eve.  The “seed” is the offspring that will come through childbirth from the line of Adam.  The promised “seed” of course is none other than Jesus Christ who was born of Mary.  The picture of seed in the ground is a pretty good picture of the Incarnation.  The Son of God has come to our world as Jesus, the God-man.  Of course, if we take this route, we are then seeing the “man” as Jesus as well as the “seed” as Jesus.  So, we could say the man is planting himself in the world.

Another way to look at it is to equate the “seed” with the gospel, or God’s word.  Jesus sows his word, or the gospel into our world.  And this word picture still allows for the “man” and the “seed” both being Jesus since Jesus is God’s Word as well as the Gospel.  That does fill out the kingdom of God to be all about the person and work of Jesus.

However, the parable can speak on two levels from this point.  For those who are in union with Christ, his followers, they too can be seen as the “man” in the parable as they live in participation of Jesus’ spreading the gospel in the world.  We too are called to “scatter seed on the ground” by sharing Jesus on whatever ground we find ourselves walking.  Going forward, we will try to keep both pictures in mind.  Jesus as the “man” and the “seed” being sown, and believers as the “man” who participate in the sowing of the gospel.  By doing so this will help us draw some implications for our personal walk with Jesus.

Let’s take a look at one such implication in the next verse:

He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. (Mark 4:27 ESV)

If we are thinking of Jesus as the “man” then the image of sleeping and rising certainly can remind us of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Perhaps we will raise an eyebrow at the point in the parable where the “man” does not know how the “seed sprouts and grows.”  But this can be a way of showing Jesus’ faith in his Father.  Jesus went to the cross fully trusting that God knew what he was doing.  He didn’t need explanations of “how” this plan for salvation was going to work.   He simply does his Father’s will. And that is a word of comfort for us as well as we follow the Father’s call to share the gospel in our daily lives.  We are not tasked to make the seed sprout and growWe are simply called to be faithful to what the Lord has given usWe leave the results up to him.

This was the pattern for the early church, and it has not changed in our modern times.  As Paul saw in his ministry, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).  What a relief that we do not have to carry the burden of growing the kingdom.  That is not our responsibility.  If there is anything we are to grow, it is to grow in our faith in the Lord Jesus.  How God chooses to grow the kingdom, on his own timing, is not our concern.  That should give us a spring in our step as we scatter seed on the ground on which we walk.

We remain faithful, trusting the one who has called us to participate in his own sowing of the gospel, the good news of his soon coming kingdom in which he is King.  It is exciting when we see evidence of the seed sprouting and growing, but that is not why we share the good news of Jesus with others.  We share him because we trust him and we have found him to be a joy to share, whether this joy takes root in others or not.  And, when we do see some evidence of growth, that should only grow our faith in him even further.  We do not have to analyze “how” the growth occurred for the purpose of replicating some process or event.  We do not put our trust in how” we share the gospel, we put our trust in who” the gospel is, Jesus Christ.  We can trust that in the sharing, God will do a work, often underground and undetected by us, at least at first.  We may never see the results in every effort of sharing the gospel.  But we don’t have to, our eyes are focused on Jesus, and that is more than enough.

Let’s go further into the parable:

The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. (Mark 4:28 ESV)

This description goes further in making the point that it is not up to us to make the seed grow.   When the gospel seed is planted, it does its own work. (Cf. Romans 1:16)  Or another way to say it, Jesus gets his own responseHe is God’s Word that every creature is made to hear and respond toOur words and efforts do nothing towards growing the kingdom if they are not a sharing of God’s word.  We do our best in the sharing, meaning, we work hard to present the word as faithfully as possible.  We will want to be as accurate and faithful to the word given to us in scripture in our sharing of Jesus, who is the Word of God that the scriptures point to.  But this does not mean that God’s word needs our help in gaining a hearing.  Slick presentations, clever campaigns, or exciting events are a complete waste of time if the word of God is not present.  Otherwise, we may get a response from people, but they will be responding to our own cleverly packaged words, and not the Word of God.  Whatever growth comes from that will not be kingdom growth but something else.   God is not trying to sell something for people to buy, he is trying to give something for people to receive.

One other thing to note in this verse is the aspect of growth being a process.  Receiving the gospel is not a onetime thing. This makes sense when we realize the gospel is a relationship with Jesus and his Father in the SpiritRelationships take time to growThey are not automatic.  It may start as just a small “blade” but in time our relationship with the Lord grows more mature and fruitful.

Let’s wrap up the first parable with the next verse:

But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:29 ESV)

The agricultural picture of harvest helps us see that God’s kingdom does have an end in mind.  God has a goal that he is working towards, and he intends on completing it.  And whatever you want to make of the “sickle” as the tool employed at harvest time, we are given some assurance in this image that it will not be used until the “grain is ripe.”  We can trust God’s timing, in our lives and in the lives of others.  His intentions are to bring a ripe harvest into his kingdom.


Now Jesus is going to move into a second parable on the same topic, using the same agricultural image, but with a different seed.

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? (Mark 4:30 ESV)

By introducing another parable with these questions, Jesus lets us know that there is no perfect analogy or illustration that will open our eyes to see the fullness of the kingdom. But we can trust that Jesus will help us see as much as possible, even if only partially. Much of what Jesus is sharing is beyond our comprehension in this life. We are to walk in faith until our eyes are made new, capable of seeing the Lord face-to-face.

Let’s look at the second parable. It is short, but well known as the Parable of the Mustard Seed:

It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 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.” (Mark 4:31-32 ESV)

Jesus gives us a couple of contrasts by using this parable.  First, there is the contrast between small and large within the parable.  Jesus uses some hyperbole to emphasize the contrast.  The mustard seed is not literally the smallest seed on earth, but it was the smallest seed the listeners were familiar with.  The point is that it is incomparably small to how large it ends up.  Jesus is allowed to exaggerate to make his point.  There is no need to reject his teaching on the grounds of botanical accuracy.  And his point tells us something about who God is.

The God we see in Jesus Christ does not mind starting small.  If you ever planted a tiny seed in dirt, you would notice how the seed virtually disappears to one’s sight.  That’s how it would appear when Jesus was crucified and buried.  It would have seemed that the hope of Jesus establishing God’s kingdom had come to nothing.  It had vanished in a tomb like a seed buried in the dirt. But we know the rest of the story. Jesus becomes the tree of life, giving us all a home and shade to rest under.

We can also see in this contrast of the small mustard seed and the large plant it produces that we can trust God will bring our faithful efforts to him — no matter how small — into a fruitful blessing for many in due time.  We may never know how a little word of encouragement from the gospel, a helping hand in Jesus’ name, or any number of things done in faith to the Lord, will grow into something much larger.  One day Jesus may pull us aside and show us the large plant that he grew from our faithfulness to him that we had no idea about. We may be astonished how Jesus used our little efforts to branch out into provisions of rest and comfort for many wearied travelers whose lives were up in the air.

There is a second contrast that comes from this parable, and that is the contrast it has with the first parable. The first parable used the image of a stalk of grain which is certainly a very positive image of life. But a mustard plant was not so readily seen as a welcomed plant. A mustard tree’s shadow would prevent the growth of other crops like wheat. Also, they would attract birds, which would eat the produce of the crops that did grow. In our vernacular, we would liken it to a weed in our beautifully manicured garden. That’s an interesting twist Jesus provides. Perhaps he wants us to be on guard from judging too quickly where God is working his blessings. Perhaps, he wants to press further that even the “birds” we so often see as pests or enemies of our particular plans, are also creatures the Lord loves and wants to refresh. Altogether, there is much mystery that comes with the kingdom of God. We are called to trust the one who is at work in growing the kingdom. It may not look the way we think it should at times, but we must remember, it’s not our kingdom, it’s his.

That gives us two parables of seed for thought. Let’s see how Mark concludes the section:

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mark 4:33-34 ESV)

The passage is concluded with Jesus spending some alone time with his disciples to explain the parables. Jesus will always walk alongside us to reveal more and more of the mysteries of the kingdom. Or in other words, he remains with us, helping us see more and more who he is and who his Father is by the Spirit. Sometimes we are left confused. But we can trust we are never left alone.

Jesus wants you to know him more. He wants you to see his gracious and loving Father. He wants you to see that he is trustworthy so you can put your trust in him and grow in that trust day in and day out. And in doing so, you will be prepared to enter into God’s kingdom. Ultimately that is what his kingdom will be all about: Living in the presence of the one who is trustworthy, who is for us completely, and who is growing us up into the abundant life he has for us. Whether you are just beginning your journey of faith or have been on that journey for decades, you can put our trust in him and grow in that trustIf that some of the mysteries of the kingdom seems confusing to you, don’t worry, the Lord will explain everything.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • How does Jesus use parables? What is he aiming to do?
  • What stood out the most to you in how the first parable was explained?
  • Did you see other aspects of the parable that were not covered in the sermon? Can you share?
  • What did you make of the contrast between the first and second parable?
  • What did you find most encouraging from the Parable of the Mustard Seed?
  • Do you have other thoughts about the Parable of the Mustard Seed?
  • Are there further questions you have about either of the parables you would like to discuss?



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