26 Then Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who plants seed in the ground. 27 Night and day, whether the person is asleep or awake, the seed still grows, but the person does not know how it grows. 28 By itself the earth produces grain. First the plant grows, then the head, and then all the grain in the head. 29 When the grain is ready, the farmer cuts it, because this is the harvest time.” ~ Mark 4:26-29
Today, we return to our study of Mark 4 where the Lord Jesus has been teaching the people who had gathered around Him at one of the lakes that come off of the Sea of Galilee. After teaching the parable of the soils, the disciples later came to Him asking for the explanation of the parable. This parable describes the various responses of people to hearing the Gospel. In order to understand the remainder of His parables, we must understand this one.
Whereas the parable of the soils featured four types of soil, the parable of the seed in today's passage features only one type of soil: good soil. This parable is found only in the Gospel of Mark. Three things are done by the one who casts the seed to the ground: he casts the seed, he sleeps, and he harvests. The soil does three things: it produces the stalk, then the head, and then the full kernel. The man's actions resonate with that of the rhythm of the seed and of the soil. Illustrated here is that the Word of God always accomplishes His purposes in the hearts of the willing.
The believer's role in someone else coming to faith in the Lord Jesus is likened here to a farmer who plants the seed and then goes home and goes to bed. There is no need to stay awake 24 hours a day. We are not responsible for what happens when a person is presented the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. This is the wonder of it all. God does all of the heavy lifting.
In v.28 of today's passage we read, "By itself the earth produces grain." From the Greek word translated "produces" here, we get our English word "automatic." This word refers to something that happens without a visible cause. The word translated "by itself" is actually placed in an emphatic position at the beginning of the sentence in the original text. It is used only one other time in the New Testament. It is found in Luke’s account of Peter’s miraculous release from prison in Acts 5.
All of this is to say, our justification and sanctification in Christ is not produced by any human means. The whole process is divinely automatic. We can not start it, and, we can not stop it. Once it begins, it continues to the end. Oh, there may be a few hiccups here and there, but it will continue til the end. We have no role in the actual work of salvation, but we get in on the harvest.
In v.27 we read, "Night and day, whether the person is asleep or awake, the seed still grows."
This is a paradox. The seed goes into the ground and dies. And as it dies, out of it comes life. No man truly understands this miracle. The farmer can't make that happen. No human can make that happen. The best horticulturalists in the world don't know how it happens. Out of the dying seed comes life, and, it illustrates the wonder of the Gospel. When received the Gospel, it gave us life. The Gospel of Jesus Christ gave us the ability to relate to God. But, before the life comes forth, there has to be death. This is the mystery of God's life in a man.
The parables of the Lord Jesus illustrate the kingdom of God in the heart of the willing. We are made in the image of what we desire. When we became believers in the Lord Jesus, we were positioned to learn of His perfect heart for us. And, at some point, we were convinced of the fact that He loves us no matter what. This type of love moves us to want to tell others about Him. We give what we have. If we did not have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, we would not have the desire to give to others.
The seed is the word of God, though rejected by most, it germinates in the hearts of the willing. And, at the right time, it produces a "harvest." The seed is powerful, it does its best work when no one’s looking. Underscored here is the idea that faith involves believing in what we can not see. We must not lose sight of the fact that God most often does His best and deepest work in our hearts in times of apparent barrenness. After all, roots grow deeper when the atmosphere is dry.
There was a man who one day came upon an automatic water fountain for the first time in his life. But he could not see how to make it work. It had no tap to step on, nor did it have a button to press. He became very frustrated. He was about to turn away when a janitor pointed out to him a little sign on the wall just behind the fountain that read, "Stoop and drink." When he stooped over the fountain, he discovered that a beam of light detected his presence and the water automatically came flowing out. This illustrates the value of our thirst. It is only when we stoop that we are positioned to drink! When we die to self, we are positioned to grow in the culture of our Savior. This growth is actually the expression of His life through ours. We call this sanctification. This is the truth taught by the parable of the seed.