There is a unique strain of bamboo that grows in Malaysia. You plant the seed, fertilize, and water it. During the first year, it does nothing. During the second year, you fertilize and water the seed, and it does nothing. The same occurs during the third and fourth years. During the fifth year, you fertilize and water the plant … and it grows 90 feet in 60 days. It has been known to shoot up 3 feet in a single day.
In Mark 4:26-34, Jesus explains that the kingdom of God grows in a similar manner. Though often unseen, the kingdom of God is growing and will triumph. This is an important lesson to remember as it appears that evil is winning and the influence of Christianity is waning. Regardless of what the doomsayers predict, God’s plan will triumph.
If we were to describe the nature of the kingdom, we might use triumphant imagery. A spectacular mountain range. A gorgeous sunset. A triumphant athlete. A victorious army. In contrast, Jesus explains the paradox of the kingdom. Glory is often found in the commonplace.
Jesus explains that the kingdom of God grows quietly and continuously (26-29). He compares the kingdom to the work of a farmer—sowing, growing, and harvesting. While the farmer is involved, the soil and the seed do the majority of the work.
As we share the gospel, we need to remember that we cannot make the seed grow. We cannot even explain how it grows. Human effort cannot achieve the kingdom of God. Human insight cannot explain the kingdom of God.
Despite appearances to the contrary, despite what the headline news proclaims, the kingdom of God is growing and the harvest will be plentiful. But it will come in God’s time and in God’s way, not by human effort or in accordance with human logic.
Using a mustard seed as an illustration, Jesus pointed out that quiet, continuous growth will have amazing results (30-32). Technically speaking, the mustard seed is not the smallest of seeds. But it is one of the smallest and proverbial for its smallness. Surprisingly, it can grow to heights of 10-12 feet and maintain a thickness of 3-4 inches. It demonstrates what God can do with small beginnings.
Jesus’ pattern was to use parables to teach the crowds (33-34). Later, he would explain the meaning to his disciples in private.
- The growth of the kingdom is a mysterious partnership. We sow the seed of the gospel. God causes it to grow.
- We can have great confidence that God’s plan will succeed. Despite setbacks, lack of progress, critics, persecution, etc., the kingdom of God will growth and triumph.
- Rather than always being in a hurry, we need to practice patient faith. God gives the growth, and it follows an appointed order that cannot be hurried or bypassed.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 8, 2015. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.