Friday, June 19, 2015

Small Beginnings

26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, while he is asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. 28 The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. 29 And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” Mark 4:26-29 (NLT)

In Mark chapter 4, Jesus teaches on the importance of seed (Mark 4:3-8, 14-20, 26-32). God’s Word is the seed (Mark 4:14; see also Luke 8:11). Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1-5, 14, 18; 1 John 1:1). Also, Jesus is God’s last Word to humanity for He is the climax of God’s divine revelation to the world (Revelation 19:13). The Word of God is “living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12; see also Romans 1:16-17) and able to bring new life (John 12:24; John 14:6).

Mark 4:26-29 is a parable unique to Mark’s Gospel and has no parable references in Matthew, Luke, or John’s Gospels. Only Mark records this parable. This parable is a Kingdom parable from Jesus and teaches the supernatural character of God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of God was Jesus’ central concern (see Mark 1:14-15), and God’s sovereign reign was displayed through Jesus’ teaching, preaching, healing, and casting out evil spirits during His public ministry (Matthew 4:23-25; Acts 10:38). The Kingdom of God is like a whole scene of events of a farmer sowing a seed in a field. The farmer represents God’s servants or messengers who faithfully shares God’s Word with others (1 Corinthians 3:5-9) and the field or soil represents human hearts that hear God’s Word. After sowing God’s Word in the field, the farmer goes about his or her ordinary life (Mark 4:27). Then, the seeds miraculous sprout, grow and produce crops and no one knows how the wheat is produced (Mark 4:27-28). The farmer has no power to make the seed grow but only to plant the seed. In the end, God’s divine power causes the seed (God’s Word) to grow in the soil (people’s hearts) (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). God’s Word when genuinely sown into human hearts produces fruit sometimes slowly but always surely (see 1 Peter 1:23-25). God is at work in Jesus (John 14:11).

Mark 4:26-29 teaches that God calls His servants or messengers to faithfully share God’s Word (seed) with others (Matthew 28:16-20). Ultimately, God is sovereign and miraculously involved in each person’s heart to make His Word (seed) grow and produce fruit (Mark 4:26–29; 1 Corinthians 3:6-7). The Apostle Paul elaborated on Jesus’ parable at 1 Corinthians 3:7-9. Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who causes the seed to grow (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). God’s servants or messengers have no power in themselves to save souls for God’s Kingdom. God’s Kingdom grows through God’s grace and the inner working of the Holy Spirit using God’s Word (Matthew 13:31-33).

The point of this parable is that God’s servants and messengers (disciples or sowers) work to cast the seed (God’s Word). However, the ultimate growth and results comes from the grace of God and God’s Holy Spirit. Sowers of God’s Word are not in charge of people’s hearts, nor can they change people’s hearts. All the sowers can do is faithfully and patiently cast the seed (God’s Word) and trust God for the growth (see James 5:7-8). In the parable of the sower, Jesus taught that much of the seed scattered would fall on unproductive soil (Mark 4:3-8, 14-20; see also Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15). This fact could discourage God’s servants and messengers. However, this parable reassured them “in due season we shall reap if we faint not” (1 Corinthians 3:8; see also Galatians 6:9-10). Followers of Jesus must understand that they do not cause the harvest but they must spread the seed (God’s Word)! 

Whereas the parable of the sower stresses the importance of proper soil for the growth of seed and the success of the harvest (Mark 4:3-8, 14-20; see also Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15), the parable of Mark 4:26-29 emphasizes the mysterious power of the seed. God’s Word is power (Hebrews 4:12) and active in accomplishing God’s purpose (see e.g., Isaiah 40:8; Isaiah 55:11; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23, 25). The author of Hebrews describes God’s Word not simply a collection of words. God’s Word is living, life-changing, and enduring that brings growth and wisdom within our hearts (soil) (Acts 6:7; Acts 12:24; Acts 19:20; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; see also Deuteronomy 4:6; Psalm 119:98-99). God’s Word was preached in verbal form, lived out in person by Jesus, and finally placed in stable, written form – the Holy Scriptures. God is also true and living (Jeremiah 10:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:9) and His living Kingdom increases through His Word (seed). Jesus is the incarnate Word of God (John 1:1-5, 14). God’s Word is alive and powerful and sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword to cut between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow and expose our innermost thoughts and desires (Hebrews 4:12). Everyone that hears AND obeys God’s Word is blessed (Luke 11:28; John 12:26) and overcomes evil (1 John 2:14).

30 Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? 31 It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, 32 but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” Mark 4:30-32 (NLT)

Mark 4:30-32 is the parable of the mustard seed. This parable is also a Kingdom parable from Jesus. These verses have parallel references at Matthew 13:31-32 and Luke 13:18-19. The mustard seed was the smallest seed of any plant cultivated in first-century Israel and was well-known for minuteness (Matthew 17:20). Though the mustard seed is small, this seed can produce a tree that grows to a height of six to ten feet. Jesus used this parable to show that God’s Kingdom has small beginnings with the planting of seed (God’s Word) by His servants but will grow and produce great results. The mustard seed begins small and insignificant but eventually produces a large plant with a glorious and grand ending. When God’s Word is planted in willing hearts, God’s Word produces new life and salvation through God’s Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17). God’s messengers and servants are to faithful take God’s Word to the world and watch God grow it!

Interestingly, some biblical commentaries noted that Jesus’ ministry seemed very fruitless and small at the beginning. Some argued that one of the criticisms Jesus would have received is how fruitless His ministry began. Jesus had great and miraculous powers of healing, teaching and casting out evil spirits (demons) during His public ministry (see e.g., Matthew 4:23-25; Mark 1:14-15, 21, 39). Yet during His pubic ministry on earth, Jesus was considered a small town itinerant (traveling) preacher. Jesus appeared as a Jewish common man to many people. During His public ministry, Jesus had not overthrown Rome. Instead, Jesus was accompanied by the Twelve apostles, women, and many outcasts (Luke 8:1-3; see also Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:49; Acts 1:13-15). Yet later, there were as many as 500 believers (1 Corinthians 15:6). Apostle Peter won 3,000 hearts at Pentecost; and throughout the Book of Acts, that number steadily increased (Acts 4:4; Acts 5:14; Acts 6:1, 7). One day, saints from every nation shall worship before His throne (Revelation 5:9).

Also, biblical commentaries argue that because of Jesus’ small beginnings, many of Jesus’ followers were probably becoming discouraged and downcast. Some biblical commentaries argue that Jesus used this parable at Mark 4:26-32 to encourage His followers of the greatness of God’s Kingdom. Unfortunately, many people rejected God’s Kingdom because the Kingdom was not dramatic enough for some people. The general expectation of the first century was that the Messiah would come with a triumphant arrival. The Jews believed the Messiah would be a great king and leader to free Israel from Roman oppression and restore Israel’s former glory. As the Christ (Messiah) and the Son of the living God (Mark 1:1; John 6:69), Jesus said His Kingdom was beginning quietly, like the tiny mustard seed that grows into an enormous tree. God is building a worldwide Kingdom through His Son Jesus. Our faith (belief) and obedience in God’s Son makes us a part of God’s family and His Kingdom (Matthew 12:48-50; Mark 3:34-35; John 1:12-13; John 15:14). The arrival of God’s Kingdom appears small and unimportant at first but will grow over all the earth. Although God’s work in Jesus currently is very small, apparently insignificant, and making little visible advancement, God’s Kingdom will eventually grow worldwide and have global impact. The day will come when God’s Kingdom will be unveiled and its true greatness and power will be seen by the whole world (Mark 4:30-32; see also Ezekiel 17:22-24; Revelation 11:15).

5 After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. 9 For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (NLT)

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