Mark 4:26-29 - The Seed Growing in Secret
This parable is found only in Mark's gospel. It teaches a very important truth and is not to be confused with several other parables which Jesus taught concerning seed which produces a harvest.
In distinction from the parable of the sower, the emphasis does not fall on the sower nor the seed. The sower has cast his seed on the earth in the past. The Lord now deals with the present germination and growth of this seed until a harvest is attained.
There are some who conclude that this parable shows a farmer who neglects the seed which he has cast into the earth. This is not true. There is no neglect — the story teaches the necessity of infinite patience until the laws of God have run their course.
How the Kingdom Comes
Jesus introduces this parable by telling the people who were listening to Him: "So is the kingdom of God." None of the other parables which our Lord uttered are introduced in quite this way. This parable will, therefore, give a picture of a certain aspect of the kingdom of God. This is the kingdom in which they are interested, and they had better listen carefully how this kingdom manifests itself. This kingdom of our God has been in the process of coming for a long time. They, and we, had better listen closely to this parable so that we may realize the laws which operate in the coming of that kingdom. God had already given His promise in the garden of Eden and reiterated that promise in various ways throughout the Old Testament — and still it has not come! Jesus now comes on the scene. They want to make Him King! God the Father had worked carefully throughout the ages. They will now experience that the Son works in the same way. He sowed the seed in tears while He was here on earth. The time will come when He will gather the sheaves with rejoicing (Psalm 126:6). But, others must not seek to set the time for Him. He tells those who are healed to keep quiet. He counsels those who would make Him a king now, to desist. He will set the time, but, the harvest will come!
The Growing Seed
The picture which is drawn in this parable is of a farmer who has sown the seed and then does nothing to it until harvest. Instead, he sleeps and rises night and day (night mentioned before day in true oriental fashion) and goes about other work but does not bother about the seed which he has sown. We must also bear in mind that the growing season in Palestine is short. Little field work, such as cultivating, had to be done. Most crops were ready in four months. He does not leave that field alone because he is not interested in it; he realizes that when he has prepared the seed-bed, has sown the seed, nothing more can be done because the earth brings forth of itself — automatically, says the text. He does not know how it does it — this is the law of God laid down in nature! If he should seek to find out if the seed is sprouting; or if he should seek to find out if the plant could grow faster; he would kill the plant! He must leave it alone in order to obtain the harvest which he desires!
Indeed, he doesn't know how the earth is able to bring forth by itself. He is standing before the mystery of life! The seed, though it looks dead, has the germ of life within it. In the earth this germ of life is stirred, it comes to greater expression. If he disturbs the small shoot which comes out of the kernel of seed, he kills it. If, later, it doesn't grow fast enough to suit him, he pulls it up, he kills it. He knows he must leave it alone. In James 5:7 the Apostle teaches the same thing. The seed is in its rightful place. The former and latter rains must go over it. It has to receive the proper amount of sunshine. Then, and then only will a harvest be assured.
As the laws of nature operate, so do those of the kingdom of God, says Jesus. He has caused the seed to be sown. He has spoken the word Himself in the very beginning. Later He sent the prophets to declare His word. His truth was made known in all the symbolism found in Israel. Now He is speaking through His Son. He will still send Apostles and others to proclaim the word — to sow the seed. The harvest will come! If God works, who can stop that work? The Spirit of God has worked silently throughout the ages causing the seed to germinate, to grow, to give promise of a great harvest to come. The earth brings forth of itself! Time is going to bring forth of itself when it has received the life-containing word and it is brought into its proper environment! Israel had looked for the harvest for at least 6000 years. Another 2000 have now been added. Peter must tell the people to whom he is writing that God is not slack concerning His promises (2 Peter 3:6). They are growing very impatient. Paul warns his readers that it is not so important who does the sowing, or who does the watering, but the most important Person is the One who gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7)!
Stages of Growth
The growth of the grain comes in stages. First is the blade, then the ear then the full grown grain in the ear. When it is in the stage of the blade, for example, it is not ready to be harvested. Of course, everyone knows these things in the sphere of nature — but so is also the kingdom of God! There is even a growing under ground before it appears above ground. Much time is required before the seed has died and the plant has gone through all its stages and finally the time for harvest has come. The people of Jesus' day were impatient. Why could they not have Him as king now? Even the apostles thought the time was ripe for the establishment of the kingdom when He was risen from the dead. Each time the answer is: Wait. Wait upon the Lord. He seems to work very slowly, but He does very thorough work.
Everything in this short parable points to the harvest. It is indeed a marvel how seed will grow in the earth, but that is not the end of the matter. The important thing is always, the harvest. On this earth there may be a crop failure so that there is not a harvest. That, however, is excluded in Christ's teaching in this parable. In the kingdom of God the harvest is assured. The work which the Triune God has performed from the earliest day to the end of the world will not be without result. He will bring in His harvest. He shall come with joy bringing the sheaves into His storehouse. When the end of time has come and all the "full grain in the ear" is ripe, He will send His sickle into the harvest. The time of harvest is very important. A day too early there are too many unripe kernels. A day too late too many kernels have already fallen on the ground. Timing is so important! The great "Harvester" knows the exact time. The day of harvest has come, the day for which everyone waited, the day for which all the labors were performed, that day has come. Then straightway He sends the sickle. Now there is no time to be lost. This is the day of days. The harvest is sure and it is bountiful!
Is this parable given to teach us how the laws of God operate in nature? Jesus is not giving a course of instruction in agriculture to the people who are here listening to Him. He is concerned that they shall learn to understand the nature of the kingdom of God. He uses various illustrations to make clear to them how the kingdom of God operates and how it will come. Let this people, and all who hear this parable later, realize that He is here instructing the church of Jesus Christ in some fundamental principles. They must be taught that the principles which are normal in the natural realm are also true in the kingdom of God.
Faithful, Hopeful Sowing
Throughout the ages, and especially in our time, the church is concerned with methods of approaching people in order to bring them into the kingdom of God. One method is discarded because the results are not what were expected and others are adopted which will fail in a short time. This is not a question of methodology. It is a question of faithfulness! Sow the seed. Sow it faithfully! Leave the growth to God! God doesn't count so much as weigh! Quality is always preferable to quantity! It must become clear to the church that she is only able to do so much and must then wait for God to finish the action begun. The church has her task. That task has been spelled out very clearly in the Bible. She must preach the word. She must administer the sacraments. She must exercise discipline. She must "mother" those who have come to the faith. Then she must be willing to wait patiently for the time of God to come. This is the way a harvest is assured!
Not only is this true regarding the church, this is also true regarding individuals. A parent must sow the word in the life of his child. Everything must be done which is humanly possible for that seed to come into an environment which is conducive to bringing forth a harvest. However, the time comes when there is no more to be done in the sense that life and growth are not in the hands of the parent. He must now leave it in the hands of God. As the farmer prays daily for a harvest, so the parent also prays daily for the fructifying power of the Spirit of God. But, he must not seek to do the work of God!
This takes an enormous amount of patience — much more than we usually have. However, we may not go contrary to the laws which obtain in the kingdom of God. Many errors have been made in this area during the years. We must listen carefully to the master instructor, Jesus Christ, when He teaches us by means of parables concerning the nature of the kingdom of God. Much of it is out of our hands! We would like to have it in our hands, but He builds His kingdom. Only in His way is a harvest assured!
Questions for Discussion:
- Would you say that this parable agrees with the words of the prophet Zechariah (4:6) that it is not by power nor by might? Is that the way the kingdom comes?
- What is the task of the church? Does the church attempt things today which do not belong to her mandate? Is this harmless or dangerous? Explain.
- A parent would like to see how far the Spirit's work has progressed in his child. Is this wrong?
- What happens to our view of the covenant on the basis of the teaching of this parable? When it is said that, "A child of so many prayers cannot be lost," is this true?
- Is patience more difficult in the realm of the kingdom than in the realm of nature?