Monday, February 04, 2013

Mark 4:26–34

Mark 4:26–34 (ESV): The Parable of the Seed Growing, and The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Synopsis

In this passage—which is actually two ESV sections combined together—Jesus explains what the “kingdom of God” is like using metaphors involving seeds:
  • In verses 26–29 (ESV) we have the Parable of the Seed Growing, in which Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is like seed scattered on the ground: we don’t really know how it grows, we just know that it does—and when it does, we know to get out the sickle for the harvest.
  • In verses 30–32 (ESV) we have the Parable of the Mustard Seed, in which Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed: the smallest of all seeds, yet when it is planted it grows into a plant which is larger than any other garden plant—large enough that birds can even make nests in its shade.
Verses 33–34 (ESV) reiterate that Jesus only speaks to the crowd in parables, whereas he privately explains all of these parables to his own disciples.

Thoughts

In my mind these two metaphors are pretty straightforward: just like seeds which are planted in the ground, we don’t really know all of the mechanics of how the kingdom of God works, but that doesn’t change the fact that we know that it does work, and we behave accordingly: we “plant the seed” (i.e. spread the Gospel to people who haven’t heard it), and we “reap the harvest” (i.e. disciple those who have come to faith). We don’t have to know how it works, we just have to know that it does. And just like planting a mustard seed produces a very large plant, spreading the Gospel has produced a very large Church, which continues to grow day by day.

We can push this metaphor even further: although we might not always have been able to understand all of the mechanics of how seeds grow (though I’m sure science has come far enough in the last 2,000 years or so that we understand most if not all of it by now), we have always had certain techniques for planting seeds, and known that some techniques worked better than others. For example, if you plant seeds in fertile ground they will grow better than if you spread them over bare rock. Techniques have improved over the centuries, much of the growth of civilization on this planet comes from improvements to agriculture, but we’ve always known that some things work better than others. Similarly, if you want to “grow a Christian,” how do you do it? You give them the Word of God. It may or may not work—the seed planted doesn’t always take hold—but nothing else does. There are lots of techniques and formulae and methodologies for evangelism, and many of them have merit, but any attempt to evangelize without actually giving the Gospel will fail to produce saving faith. You might convince someone to try a new lifestyle, or think about a new philosophy of life, but only the Gospel will produce true repentance leading to saving faith.
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