In Mark 4:26-32, Jesus uses the act of planting seeds to say something about the kingdom of God. You might not be aware of this, but there is difference of opinion about what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God. Is Jesus referring to the coming millennial kingdom where He would reign as king over the world? Or was he speaking about a spiritual kingdom which He was currently establishing in the hearts of those who believe Him? While the Bible teaches that there will be a millennial kingdom in the future, it seems to me that Jesus was talking about the spiritual kingdom at this point.
This would coincide with what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” He wasn’t telling his followers to seek to be a part of the future kingdom of God on earth. He was telling them to submit to God and make His ways a priority in their lives. So as we look at this passage, that is how I will interpret “the kingdom of God.”
During my summer with Marion Baptist Church, I lived with an older farmer and his wife. While there, I learned that farming was not for the faint of heart. I helped toss hay into the top of a barn, tear down a chicken building, tasted field corn (I hadn’t known there was a difference), and was chased by a rooster. But I also learned that between planting seeds and harvesting crops there is a lot of work. Sometimes, the seeds grow well and provide a good income for the farmer. At other times, the seeds don’t grow or amount to much.
In the verses we just read, Jesus likened the kingdom of God to the process of planting seeds and harvesting a crop. During this message, we will look at four thoughts from what Jesus said about seeds.
- The kingdom of God is like a seed that is planted (26).
The first statement Jesus made about the kingdom of God is that it is like a man who is scattering seed on the ground. This was a picture which all of the people would easily recognize. They had probably just passed several men who were doing that on this day. Jesus was using this imagery to teach something about the kingdom of God. However, to understand the analogy, we must understand what the terms in the parable represent.
a. What is the kingdom?
Remember how Jesus told Nicodemus that he would not see or enter the kingdom unless he was born again? He was talking about the new birth that makes a spiritually dead person alive to God. Nicodemus did not understand. But neither did the other Pharisees of his day.
In Luke 17:21, Jesus told the Pharisees that the kingdom was not something that would be observed by them. It was something that would be within them. More than just a future physical kingdom, God’s kingdom begins inside of those who believe Him and willingly submit to his rule in their lives. The kingdom of God is not just something in the future; it is something God is doing right now.
b. Who is the man?
At this point, we might be safe in assuming that Jesus is the farmer in the parable. He was the One who was planting the seeds of truth in the lives of those who were listening. But as the disciples took on this task, this farmer could represent any of them or any of us who are speaking the truth to others. This idea is supported by Jesus’ explanation earlier in the chapter (Mark 4:13-14). As someone presents the truths of God’s Word, he is the sower of seed.
c. What is the seed?
Jesus defined the seed as the Word (God’s truth). When you look at the previous parable and consider that he is talking about the kingdom of God, you must come to the conclusion that he was talking about presenting the truth of God that would change the hearts of His listeners. Today this would refer to presenting the good news of Jesus to someone.
d. How is it accomplished?
The ancient process of planting seeds was much different than today. The farmer would take a bag of seeds to the field and scatter the seeds by hand.
At first thought, this may seem like a haphazard method for planting seeds. But I don’t think that is the point. The ancient farmer did not place each seed into a specially spooned out hole. He threw the seed wherever he could, knowing that only a portion of the seeds would germinate and be harvested.
Jesus was trying to show us that we should not discriminate who hears the truth. Just as he shared it with Samaritans, tax collectors, and religious people, we should tell everyone regardless of who they are. We are not called to only speak to those who are receptive. We are to speak to as many people as possible.
- The kingdom of God is like a crop that grows by itself (27).
[Read Mark 4:26-28.]
After showing the need to plant the seed of truth in people’s lives, Jesus points out the need to let the seeds grow.
a. We can do other things.
The first phrase indicates the life of the farmer after planting the field. Jesus described his life as sleeping and rising. He was showing that planting is not the entire life of the farmer. Although planting does take a good portion of his time, there are other things that he is able to do.
If we are not careful, we can become so overcome with the need to spread the gospel that we are unable to sleep. Yes, we need to see the need for evangelism and missions, but we must also rest in God’s control of the task.
Psalm 127:1-2 — “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep.”
Sleep is a benefit given to us by God. We must remember that our strength for Christian endeavors is not found in our efforts, but in God’s efforts. That ought to take the burden off of us and help us to trust God to accomplish his goals.
b. We can rely on the Holy Spirit.
The next thought is that the growth of the seed is not something the farmer understands. It isn’t that he is uneducated or inexperienced. It is just that the process happens without his having any knowledge of how it happens. The farmer scatters the seed and then goes about other business because he knows it will grow. The seed responds to the soil, rain and sun and eventually grows on its own — just as God designed it to work.
Evangelism is very similar. When the gospel has been planted in the heart of a person who has not yet become part of God’s kingdom, it begins to accomplish something. Remember that God promised that his Word would not return void to him (Isaiah 55:11). And Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).
We are not alone in our efforts to share the truth with people.
APPLIC. Have you ever been especially concerned about someone to whom you have presented the gospel? Most of us have shared the gospel with a friend or relative. Then we earnestly pray for their salvation. It is good to pray and to present the gospel, but we must temper our zeal with knowledge.
If you have planted the seed of the gospel in someone’s heart, please allow God to do his work. Don’t be pesky and constantly knock on that person’s door. You may feel like you are being zealous, but you may actually be pushing that person away unnecessarily. Let God do His work.
- The kingdom of God is like a crop that will be harvested (29).
[Read Mark 4:29.]
After the farmer has planted the seed, he waits for a period of time. For some crops it will take a long time for the plant to develop fruit. So, the farmer has to be especially patient. But he is still waiting for that time of harvest. As he watches the field, he will eventually recognize that the grain is ready for harvesting. At that point in time, he sends out his laborers to harvest the grain.
What do we learn from this?
a. There will eventually be a harvest.
Evangelism takes a lot of effort with not much return. However, Jesus encourages us with the first two words in verse 29. “But when” shows us that waiting is not the only thing we have to do.
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” –Galatians 6:9
God may call us to difficult places of ministry, but as we faithfully proclaim the gospel, there will be results … it just takes time.
b. There will be a harvester.
At the time of harvest, the farmer who planted the seeds is often a part of the reaping. In this parable, that is not as clear as you might think. The phrase “he puts in the sickle” can also refer to a master sending his servants into the field to harvest the grain. In any event, the grain is harvested and he is happy with what God has provided.
APPLIC. It is the same way with evangelism. You may speak to many people about the gospel and not see any response for a while. But as the Holy Spirit works, there will come a time when God may turn that person from his sins to faith in Jesus.
Will you always see the results of your ministry? No, although you have given the gospel, someone else may be the one who finally sees the harvest.
1 Cor. 3:6 – “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”
Paul made it very clear that he didn’t care who got to harvest the spiritual crop. He planted the seed and was sure that others were watering what he had planted. But in the end, he knew the God was in control of the results. It really didn’t matter who got to harvest the spiritual crop.
- The kingdom of God is like a small but fruitful seed (30-31).
[Read Mark 4:30-32.]
Jesus now begins a second parable about the kingdom of God. In this parable, He compares God’s kingdom to a small seed that produces a surprisingly large tree.
a. The mustard seed (31)
Mustard seeds are very small. “The seeds are usually about 1 to 2 millimetres… ” (Wikipedia). Compared to a peach pit, the tiny mustard seed seems incapable of producing much of anything. But “it can reach a height of 12-15 feet in a few weeks” (Grassmick 121). That is a surprising contrast with the size of its seed.
b. The kingdom of God
Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like the surprising growth of the tiny mustard seed. The work of God’s kingdom begins with the spoken (or read) Word of God. When this truth is planted in the heart of someone or in a certain community, it has the possibility of producing great results.
Jesus had a short conversation with the woman at the well which later led to the whole city listening and responding favorably to Him (John 4:39-42). Jesus had a small group of disciples at the time of His death and resurrection but look at how the kingdom grew quickly in the days following his ascension. Thousands believed just days later.
How was this accomplished?
Jesus and the disciples spoke God’s truth the those who would listen. They planted the seed of the kingdom of God in their hearts and then God’s Holy Spirit caused that seed to germinate and grow in them leading to them to repentance and faith in Jesus and a changed life.
Rom. 10:17 – “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
APPLIC. When you present the truth of the gospel, it may seem insignificant. Quoting a Bible verse to someone may seem like a small thing to do. You may think that telling someone about Jesus and what He did is not very important. But God is able to use the small message preached to convert the soul of the worst sinner.
As you consider these parables about the kingdom, do you see the encouragement Jesus gave to us? We have a job to do. We need to proclaim the truth to everyone. But the end result is not our responsibility. God has designed it so that the Holy Spirit will work beyond what we say and do. We can rest in God’s ability to bring about the harvest at the right time.
1. Are you spreading the seed of the gospel?
2. Are you patiently waiting for God to do the work?
3. Are you expecting a harvest?
Smile today and realize that God is doing the work behind the scenes and that He will accomplish his great work in His perfect time.
Alexander, Joseph A., The Gospel According to Mark, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1858), pp. 102-05.
Redlich, E. Basil, St. Luke’s Gospel, (Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson, 1948), 93.
“Mustard Seed” as viewed at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustard_seed on 6/4/2022.
David Harris, “How Tall is a Mustard Tree?” as viewed at https://www.gardenguides.com/12412948-how-tall-is-a-mustard-tree.html on 6/4/2022.
Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, 120-21.