“…the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself…” (Mark 4:27)
Tonight we are looking at another parable of the kingdom. It is a very short parable. And, continuing with the same theme that Jesus began last week, it is about a seed. Last week we looked at the parable of The Sower. The Sower was Jesus’ first parable, and if you look at Mark 4:26 you’ll notice that Jesus moves immediately from that parable into this next parable. It’s very similar but its also very different.
Now, just a note about order. You may be wondering how I am getting the order, or why I am deciding to jump from Matthew to Mark – at least for today. There is a critical exhaustive work by Kurt Aland entitled The Synopsis of the Four Gospels. It is a time line of Jesus’ life running over 36o pages. He uses the Greek text and orders all the events in Mat, Mark, Luke, and John into a chronological time line. Although it isn’t necessary, in a series like this, to follow that chronology, I am going to as best I can for the sake of context. Because, I think that Jesus is fascinating. I am stricken by him. And any study tool that will help me feel like I know him more I want to use. So following him in a chronological way, walking with him from town to town, hearing his stories, and watching his life unfold as it probably actually did – is fascinating. It’s sort of like watching a movie. Back to our parable.
And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29 ESV)
Clearly the parable is about the kingdom of God. Jesus is teaching on that subject. And, if I may, let’s just get to heart of this parable right at the outset. The parable is clearly about one thing. Specifically, that the kingdom of God grows automatically – with out our even knowing or understanding it. It just happens. The man plants the kingdom, again the seed is the kingdom, not the message about the kingdom, not something different than that kingdom that will one do grow into a kingdom, but the kingdom itself, and then he goes about his business. Not worrying or messing with the seed. He goes to sleep and wakes up, eats a strawberry spinach salad for lunch, checks his Facebook wall, watches the STL Cardinals, takes the lent out of the drier, maybe reads a novel, and calls his mother. The point is – he ain’t thinking about the seed. But… while he is doing all of that, the kingdom grows and bears fruit, automatically. All by itself. Look at it in Greek.
automate he ge karpophore
automatically the land is fruit bearing
A wooden or literal translation would sound like this. The land is fruit bearing automatically! It happens all by itself. So that is what we are going to talk about today. Robert Capon says this is one of the most startling statement in all the Bible.
“But then comes one of the most startling statements and all Scripture: Jesus says; the earth (and all of it, mind you: Good, bad, or indifferent) bears fruit of itself, automatically. Just put the kingdom into the world, he says in effect; put it into any kind of world – not only into a world of hotshot responders or spiritual pros, but into a world of sinners, deadbeats, and assorted other poor excuses for humanity (which, interestingly enough, is the only world available anyway) – And it will come up a perfect kingdom all by itself… Capon
So today, we need to spend some time on two things. First the kingdom, and second the automatic-ness, or the automate, of that kingdom. Why is Jesus telling us this in the first place? What do we need to hear in regard to the automatic growth of the kingdom.
WHAT IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD?
The phrase “kingdom of God” occurs:
Mark = 14 x’s
Luke = 32 x’s
John = 2 x’s
Matthew 4 x’s [“kingdom of heaven” = 20 x’s]
Matthew prefers the phrase “kingdom of heaven” but most scholars agree that the “kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of heaven” are the same thing. They are synonymous. (Matthew uses “heaven” in the exact same places where Mark and Luke use “God.”)
The kingdom of God is clearly the central message of Jesus. It might be important for us to spend some time on it. In fact, everything seems to revolve around it. Jesus’ teaching, the parables, even his miracles are said to point to the fact that the kingdom his here. Here are a few examples.
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven… (Matthew 7:21)
But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:28)
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)
For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:18)
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matthew 25:34)
So what is the kingdom of God? It is the reign of God here on the earth. That is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, on earth…” One day heaven will come here to Earth. John, in the book of Revelation, saw the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem coming out of heaven into the Earth. So you see:
[The Bible] is not about someplace else called heaven, nor about somebody at a distance called God. Rather, it is about this place here, in all its thisness and placiness, and about the intimate and immediate Holy One who, at no distance from us at all, moves mysteriously to make creation true both to itself and to him.” Capon
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 ESV)
“The Bible is concerned with the perfecting of what God made, not with the trashing of it– with the resurrection of its native harmonies and orders, not with the replacement of them by something alien.” Capon
By the way this is another, wonderful, reason why we have that word “culture” in our mission statement. God’s mission is not to destroy this earth, but to reconcile all things back to himself. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation to serve and minister to this world and this culture. Sometimes we miss this because we are often thinking about the kingdom of God as heaven or as if it were in heaven – up there, rather than down here. “Sweet Home Up in Heaven.” Consider this:
“In the Old Testament the principal difference between the gods of the heathen and the God who, as Yahweh, manifested himself to Israel was that, while the pagan gods occupied themselves chiefly “up there” Yahweh showed his power principally “down here” on the stage of history.” Capon
DISCUSSION: How might our life and actions be different if we focused more on the kingdom of God on the earth rather than sweet home up in heaven.
Just so we are all on the same page, to review, the kingdom God is his reign over this Earth, where he makes all things new and reconciles all thing to himself (2 Cor 5:18). Turning back to our parable today we learn that the is kingdom is already here. Notice what Jesus said. He said that the farmer plants the kingdom of God and then waits, which more than suggests that the kingdom of God is already here, in our earth, planted in the ground. Which is why we hear Jesus say things like “the kingdom of God is at hand, planted here, at work in this world.”
It is already here. But it is also clearly not already here. It is here in the sense that we are being made new, but it is not here in the sense that we are finished being made new. In theological conversations we would refer to this as the “already and not yet.” Jesus has already come, and we have already been given new life, sealed by the Holy Spirit, but there is obviously still so much that is “not yet.” There is still so much that we are waiting for. But – it is coming. How is it coming? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s like a farmer who plants his seed and then goes about his normal routine and the seed bears fruit – automatically – without him even understanding how. That leads us to the next question: what did Jesus mean when he said it is coming automatically? What is that all about?
HOW IS THE KINGDOM AUTOMATIC?
Last week I posed the question, “Why doesn’t God just get on with it? Why doesn’t he knock some heads together and git’er done? Why does it feel as if God is taking his sweet time and why does it sometimes feel like he’s actually doing the opposite? The short answer to that question is that God has decided to take a “hands-off” approach. Today I want to explore the long answer.
If you think about, there was a time when God did knock heads together and literally got rid of all the bad guys. In the story of Noah and the flood that is exactly what he did. But then – at the end of it all – God promised that he would never do anything like that again.
“He says that his answer to the evil that keeps the world from becoming the city of God will not, paradoxically, involve direct intervention on behalf of the city. Instead, he makes a covenant of non-intervention with the world: he sets his bow in the cloud.” Capon
Capon goes on to suggest that the bow in the cloud could be seen as symbolic development that he hangs all his weapons on the wall. He decided to take a hands off approach. If you look at the rest of the story, God makes covenants and promises to Abraham that, through his seed he will bring about his holy city. But, at the same time, Abraham is clearly as good as dead. On the verge of extinction with no children because he and his wife are very old and can’t seem to have even one. Finally, after 100 years they have a child, and that child has children and those children have children and the Hebrew people,God’s special, select, choses race is born. God is going to start this holy city with them. But… within a few chapters in the book of genesis, this special people end up spending “an inordinate amount of time in slavery and wandering.” (Capon) And when they do finally get a piece of real estate where they can establish a “kingdom,” that doesn’t last very long. God, again, makes promises to King David that God’s kingdom will inevitably come and when it does one of David’s descendants will sit on the thrown. So… Skip ahead to that promised descendant, whom we know is Jesus. Jesus comes to the city of Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, and here is what we get, in a nut shell.
“He announced that he was bringing in the kingdom and, in general, accomplishing once and for all every last eternal purpose he ever had for the world. And, as Christians believe, he did just that. But at the end of all the doing, he simply disappeared, leaving – as far as anybody has been able to see in the 2,000 or so years since – no apparent city, no effective kingdom able to make the world straighten up and fly right. The whole operation began as a mystery, continued as a mystery, came to fruition as a mystery, and to this day continues to function as a mystery. Since Noah, God has evidently had almost no interest in using direct power to fix up the world.” Capon
Instead, we have this indirect, hidden power at work now. The seed is planted and it bears fruit automatically. Wouldn’t you agree that it seems pretty clear that God does not use direct, straight-line intervening power. We often say, “God works in mysterious ways.” He doesn’t seem to do things directly. Instead he uses, what might be called, indirect, curved, or as Luther called it, “left-handed power.” We want God to use right handed power. Crush our enemies and bring swift justice to the guilty. But, God doesn’t do things the way we want him to.
So lets look at straight line power for a moment. The world is built around straight-line, git-er’ done, ‘God helps those who help themselves’ kind of power.
Indeed, straight-line power (“use the force you need to get the result you want”) is responsible for almost everything that happens in the world. And the beauty of it is, it works. From removing the dust with a cloth to removing your enemy with a .45, it achieves its ends in sensible, effective, easily understood ways. Unfortunately, it has a whopping limitation. If you take the view that one of the chief objects in life is to remain in loving relationships with other people, straight-line power becomes useless. Capon
“At some very early crux in that difficult, personal relationship, the whole thing will be destroyed unless you – who, on any reasonable view, should be allowed to use straight-line power – simply refuse to use it; unless, in other words, you decide that instead of dishing out justifiable pain and punishment, you are willing, quite foolishly, to take a beating yourself.” Capon
Friends, that is exactly what Jesus has done. His chief concern is having a loving relationship with us. And so, he is slow to anger and abounding in mercy and grace. Even when we take advantage of his patience and purposely go on in sin – again, and a gain, and again, he remains loving, patient, left handed towards us. Why? I don’t know. But I am sure glad about it, thankful, sometimes, even, lead to worship him because of it.
And so, as you can see, what turns out to seem like no power at all, is actually very – very powerful. When we think that right-handed power is the only “right” way to get things done, Jesus is teaching us that left-handed power is the only kind of power that will ever get anything done. It is the only kind of power that evil can’t touch. Remember last week when we talked about the birds snatching the kingdom and thinking they had thwarted God’s plan only to excrement that seed somewhere else, essential planting the kingdom somewhere else with built in fertilizer. You see, the kingdom grows automatically, even when birds eat it. And, as I mentioned last week, when the so called “good guys” of this biblical story proceed to kill Jesus, again thinking that they have done something with their right-handed, straight-line power, it turns out that Jesus is still the one with the real power. His is the left-handed sort of power that gets thing done in a mysterious, hidden kind of a way. And it does it all automatically.