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The Parables of Jesus Part 20
Mark 4:26-29 - We can plant seeds, but must have faith in the mystery of the power of God to make those seeds grow.
“And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.””
Mark 4:26-29 NASB1995
This short but powerful parable is one of two parables that are unique to the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is teaching the multitudes (and His disciples) and this parable about the kingdom of God follows the parable of the sower of seeds. A man casts seed upon the soil, goes to bed at night and gets up by day and the seed sprouts and grows. The man does not know how this happens. The seed produces crops by itself and the man harvests the crop when the crop permits.
Do you remember an early elementary school project where you put soil into a milk carton, then planted a seed or a few seeds of a common plant? Everyone put those cartons on the window sill so that they could get light, the soil was watered regularly (not too much!) and suddenly one day the miracle occurred! A tiny green plant has pushed up through the soil, stretching towards the light. Eventually (in spite of the ways you can inadvertently kill it), the plant is large enough to be transplanted into a garden or larger container.
You can toss science around all day on how seeds germinate and grow (see this Article) but the fact remains that a true understanding of the life process of a seed is indeed a mystery, as is the life process of any other being (go read the definitions of “Life” to see that it is, indeed, poorly understood when you try to get to the most fundamental principles and avoid any mention of a Creator). For me, it is enough to know that the seed works according to its own nature that God has given it. He alone is the keeper and giver of life and light. We are not in a giant “simulation”, a multiverse or some other bizarre pretzel logic conceptualization that someone has come up with to avoid acknowledging that there is a God.
But this parable really isn’t about plant seeds and how they grow, is it? Jesus does not explain this parable, leaving it to the many Bible analysts and commenters to come with a wide variety of explanations. Fortunately, Precept Austin has its in-depth verse-by-verse collection of commentary, sermons and illustrations for Mark 4 that I can consult. I also found elegance in commentary by David Guzik from Enduring Word. Let’s look at a few ideas:
From Precept Austin/William MacDonald - This parable is found only in Mark. It can be interpreted in at least two ways. The man may picture the Lord Jesus casting seed on the earth during His public ministry, then returning to heaven. The seed begins to grow—mysteriously, imperceptively but invincibly. From a small beginning, a harvest of true believers develops. When the grain ripens … the harvest will be taken to the heavenly garner. Or, the parable may be intended to encourage the disciples. Their responsibility is to sow the seed. They may sleep by night and rise by day, knowing that God’s Word will not return to Him void, but will accomplish what He has intended it to do. By a mysterious and miraculous process, quite apart from man’s strength and skill, the Word works in human hearts, producing fruit for God. Man plants and waters but God gives the increase. The difficulty with this interpretation lies in verse 29. Only God can put forth the sickle at harvest time. But in the parable, the same man who sows the seed puts in the sickle when the grain is ripe. (Believer's Bible Commentary)
William MacDonald was the president of Emmaus Bible College and published massive volumes of Bible Commentaries. He, like many other Bible experts analyzing this short parable, sees that it is a mysterious and miraculous process that allows the Word to work in the seed that has been sown in human hearts.
I also found a lot of food for thought in another commentary in Precept Austin by Chris Benfield, the pastor of Shady Grove Baptist Church in Boonville, North Carolina. Here’s a Link to his original sermon, which is rather lengthy if you feel inclined to read it (I decided not to include it here but I recommend reading it).
So, what does one of my favorite sites say about this parable (Gotquestions.org)? Here’s an extract from their commentary; I like this fairly simple explanation - God does the invisible work in the hearts of those who have the seed planted:
Jesus did not explain this parable, as He did some others. Instead, He left it to us to understand its meaning. Taking the seed to be the Word of God, as in Mark 4:14, we can interpret the growth of the plants as the working of God’s Word in individual hearts. The fact that the crop grows without the farmer’s intervention means that God can accomplish His purposes even when we are absent or unaware of what He’s doing. The goal is the ripened grain. At the proper time, the Word will bring forth its fruit, and the Lord of the harvest (Luke 10:2) will be glorified.
The truth of this parable is well illustrated in the growth of the early church: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Just like a farmer cannot force a crop to grow, an evangelist cannot force spiritual life or growth on others.
Finally, here is what is in the Enduring Word commentary (link is above):
As if a man should scatter seed: When a farmer plants seed, and it grows by night, when he sees the seed sprouted in the morning, he has just worked as a partner with God. Man has done what he could do – plant the seed; and God has done what only He can do: grow the seed.
This shows that the word of God works invisibly within us. God promised that His word would accomplish the purpose for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:11). So when you hear the word, it works in you – even as you sleep. It works in you spiritually, in a way that is invisible to our eyes.
“The secret of growth is in the seed, not in the soil nor in the weather nor in the cultivating. These all help, but the seed spontaneously works according to its own nature.” (Frederick Robertson)
He himself does not know how: How exactly the seed grows is a mystery to the farmer. Though it grows by a process he cannot see nor fully account for, he has faith in the growing process. So it is with the Kingdom of God: we work in partnership with God, yet the real work is left up to Him – we trust in a process we cannot see nor fully account for.
Because Jesus said that the Parable of the Soils was a key for understanding other parables (Mark 4:13), we can say that the seed He speaks of here represents the Word of God, as it did in the Parable of the Soils. Therefore, with this parable, Jesus shows the way the word of God works with hidden and mysterious power, just like a seed.
The Bible isn’t just an instruction manual or a list of rules to follow. It lives and works its life into us. The idea that a preacher lends life to God’s Word is wrong; the only thing a preacher has to give to the word is a voice. Like a seed, the word of God has a hidden and mysterious power.
Jesus planted the first seeds of belief in Him as the Son of God and Savior in already fertile soil in those waiting for the true Messiah, and in the two thousand years since that time, the seed has been planted over and over again by apostles, believers, pastors, Bible teachers, parents, friends and others. We can plant the seed, but only God has the supernatural, invisible and mysterious powers to make that seed grow. Time to get to work planting those seeds and have faith in the growing process!
My next devotional examines another parable that is unique to Mark, the parable of the absent householder, in Mark 13:34-37.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Please help me to sow seeds of Your Word and pray for the invisible and mysterious process of Your Power to grow those seeds into grain for the great harvest. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.
Gotquestions.org was accessed on 10/21/2023 for the parable of the seed in Mark.
The personal testimony of Bruce Hurt at Precept Austin can be found Here.