Mark-Growing the Kingdom of God
“Mark: Growing the Kingdom of God”
The Citizen Who Is Not a Citizen
Imagine how you would feel having grown up playing the games that your friends played. Imagine how you would feel after years going to school with your friends, saying the Pledge of Allegiance with your classmates and singing the national anthem at all the ballgames. You got your driver's license at 16 and anxiously waited to be old enough to vote. Then on the day that you registered to vote it was discovered that you are not a legal citizen of the United States. To make things worse, later that day while reflecting on things at home he went to answer the knock at the door to discover three government agents and knew your name telling you that you were going to be arrested and detained and deported. How would you feel growing up thinking that you are a US citizen only to find that you are not?
While there is a very similar situation that occurs in the lives of many people who grew up in church, went to all events, attended worship services, sang hymns and prayed just like everyone else. The problem is they may well live out their lives thinking they are a part of the Kingdom of God only to find that they are not citizens of God's kingdom.
Most if not all of us are rarely aware of the Kingdom of God, yet it is the primary teaching and focus of Jesus in His earthly ministry. Frankly, I was not even acutely aware of the Kingdom of God or its importance until I went to seminary. And there we struggled to actually understand and to understand just exactly what the Kingdom of God is.
That is why when we come to a passage like Mark chapter 4 where so much time is given to describe it we need to really pay attention because of its importance. So as you turn in your Bibles to Mark chapter 4 you will notice that we are focusing on a rather large passage. So let me break it down for you in to a quick outline.
Jesus' Teaching on the Kingdom of God
One of the outstanding features of this passage is that it seems to be a collection of several parables of Jesus. I parable is generally a spiritual truth conveyed through stories of things common to the hearers. A parable typically focuses on a single, simple truth.
So the outline of the passage goes something like this; 1) the parable of the Sower and the seed, 2) the parable's explanation, 3) the parable of the lamp on a stand, 4) the parable of the growing seed, and 5) the parable of the mustard seed. So at this outline in mind let's take a look at the first parable found in Mark 4:3-8.
Parable of the Sower & the Seed (Mark 4:3-8)
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.”
9 Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
This is a parable about the Kingdom & growth: “Productivity within the Kingdom depends on the kind of response to the Word one makes.” Jesus places a very strong focus on hearing as you can see because he starts with the word "listen" and asks people to hear him at the end of the parable.
Essentially Jesus was saying that he was the Sower and so are those who will proclaim the gospel message. He is also explaining that that message will be broadcast out with varying results. Each type of soil received a seed, but the reality is only one type of soil produced a crop. The gospel message is the message of the kingdom and so the kingdom of God is being broadcast to many. The kingdom will have humble beginnings and not everyone will accept. Yet in the hearts of those who are ready to hear it, this Kingdom message will grow and multiply well beyond that individual hearer.
There is an inherent warning in this parable. There are some who will look like they're doing real well and have received that message, but they never bear any fruit for one reason or another. Be warned that if you are not bearing any fruit that is if you do not see others coming to Christ because of your message in your witness with your life, you may not be part of the Kingdom of God.
We often focus on the idea that one out of four kinds of seeds bore any fruit. But the real surprise in this parable is that the seed that fell upon good soil produced an overwhelming amount of crop. So powerful is the Word of God in the fertile soil of the receptive hearer that the resulting harvest is far greater than would normally be expected.
Parable of the Lamp on a Stand (Mark 4:21-23)
21 He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
This is another parable about the Kingdom: “God is making his kingdom visible in the ministry of Jesus Christ." The kingdom of God, until this point was not easily visible in its power. But through the ministry of Jesus Christ it is present and visible like a lamp on a stand. I think gets to the point of this parable so let's move on to the next one.
Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29)
26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
This is another parable of Kingdom & growth: “God will bring about His kingdom apart from human effort.” Through this parable Jesus demonstrates that the Kingdom of God is like the seed that a farmer sows. On its own God's kingdom will germinate and grow to maturity in a consistent and predictable way. Once mature, the kingdom of God present on Earth will come to its full purpose to be harvested.
It is helpful to understand at this point that the disciples of Jesus were expecting a kingdom of a political nature, more militant, reactive against the Roman government imposing its will upon God's people. They were looking for rally cries, talk of defeating the Romans, sweeping social changes and reforms. None of these were present in the ministry of Jesus in a way that was expected.
So there is little reason to be surprised that the disciples were a bit confused about the Kingdom of God. How could what Jesus was speaking about bring about a salvation of God's people? Jesus' answer was to help them see that God's kingdom did not have to be understood for it to grow. It did not need to be a military action for it to grow. Now are ready to see how this fits into the next parable Jesus tells.
Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32)
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
This parable is yet a third parable on Kingdom & growth: “Though the kingdom begins small, it will be large at the end.” Jesus reassures his disciples that the Kingdom of God will grow large even though it doesn't look like it now. Remember the expectation is disciples had of the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of the King David was great. The kingdom of King Solomon was vast. One can imagine that the kingdom of God as held in the expectation of the Jewish minds of the day would be an extraordinary kingdom. Indeed it would be soon. But not in the way that most perhaps all and Jews expected. But God's ways are not man's ways, so His Kingdom would not be like a human kingdom.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Interestingly enough, Jesus spends quite a bit of time describing the Kingdom of God, what it is like, but never really defines what it is. Jesus' parables of the kingdom in this passage each have an aspect of the present and the future. One might be inclined to think that the Kingdom of God is the Church. But as theologian George Ladd put it, "The NT does not identify the kingdom with the Church. The kingdom is the rule of God, and the realm of His blessings; the Church is the people of the kingdom who have received it, who witness to it, and who will inherit it." (ISBE, vol. 3, p. 28)
The Challenge of the Kingdom of God
The question is, after hearing all this about the Kingdom of God, do you belong to it? Or are you one of those at Jesus says hears the word, but doesn't understand or sees the evidence and doesn't perceive? If you do not belong to the Kingdom of God, if you do not allow God to rule in your heart, you have the power and opportunity and now change that. Don't wait you don't know when harvest time will be for you.
Perhaps you think of yourself as being in the Kingdom of God. Are you taking an active part in sowing the seed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Are you ready to work in the harvest? It is a critical question that should not be put off for another day. Decide now to spread the word the good news of Jesus Christ. Help to scatter the seed that is the good news to all those around you, family, friends, coworkers, perhaps even strangers.
In this way we will help others become a part of the Kingdom of God and to enjoy God's blessings.